Inspiration September 8, 2017
"Women used to be afraid. Well I wasn’t afraid. I felt like a winner. I am a winner."
Although sculptor Louise Nevelson didn’t identify as a feminist, she actually played a vital role in the feminist art movement.
Nevelson didn’t want her gender to define her. She was an artist first and a woman second.
But, she paved a path for a lot of female artists today. At the time, female artists in the mid 20th century were looked down upon and accused of copying male artists. Nevelson proved them wrong.
But how did she break through the stigma put on female artists and create a name for herself in a male dominated industry?
Let us break it down for you. ENTITY reports five reasons why people today view Nevelson as a feminist.
A lot of critics confused her art for the work of a male artist, but this wasn’t her intent. She didn’t believe in art being divided into masculine and feminine. Although she was taught by male artists such as Hans Hoffman, she reinforced the idea that art is art and doesn’t have to be held within a gendered category.
She created an individual and nontraditional path for herself in a male-dominated industry. She never let fear get in her way.
“Women used to be afraid. Well I wasn’t afraid. I felt like a winner. I am a winner,” Nevelson once said.
According to Wide Walls, an online art magazine, this contributed to the cultural and social liberation of women.
As an artist, Nevelson wanted to be feminine and individualistic. But, at the time, men ran the art industry. Critics defined her monumental assemblages as “masculine.” Her work challenged the stereotype of the macho artist. While the men were using metal for their art, Nevelson broke away from the conventional by using wood and recycled material for her massive sculptures.
While her work was industrial, the individual pieces were intimate. She broke the idea that only men could create work on such a scale or that women’s lives couldn’t be a part of the art. Artists such as Eva Hesse, Harmony Hammond, Joan Snyder, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro all owe Nevelson for her groundbreaking work in feminine art. Nevelson’s work even inspired artists such as Rachel Whiteread.
Without Nevelson’s hard work, a lot of female artists wouldn’t be where they are today.
According to the online publication, The Culture Trip, she remembered her husband’s family as “terribly refined. Within their circle you could know Beethoven, but God forbid if you were Beethoven.” This thinking didn’t work for her, so soon after the birth of her son, Myron, she separated from her husband.
Nevelson followed her heart after the separation and, in 1928, joined the Art Students League where she studied the works of Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. She then traveled through Europe, which is when she studied with Hoffman in Munich.
She also assisted Diego Rivera on a mural project.
Nevelson is an example of how women don’t necessarily need men to succeed. She refused to let a man hold her down, so instead, she followed her dream. Nevelson not only broke through a lot of traditional rules in the art world but also in her personal life.
While others were painting with white, Nevelson was painting with black. To her, black was a total color “because black encompasses all colours. Black is the most aristocratic colour of all. There is no colour that will give you the feeling of totality. Of peace. Of greatness. Of quietness. Of excitement. I have seen things that were transformed into black, that took on just greatness. I don’t know a lesser word,” Nevelson said.
Black also represented death and absolute mortality. So, a lot of the themes in her sculptures were about love, marriage and death.
She rooted a lot of her own life in her artwork, so a lot of her work had a common thread of feminine biography.
Nevelson wasn’t your average artist at the time. One critic even wrote, “We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm…otherwise we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns.”
She said she was an outsider because she didn’t fit the guidelines of what an artist should be. Critics assumed she couldn’t truly devote herself to her art because she wasn’t ugly, old or male.
But she broke every preconceived notion critics had about female artists thus creating a new standard that was more inclusive.
According to The New York Times, Nevelson was born in Russia in 1899. Her Jewish family moved to America due to anti-Semitism in her birth country. The sculptor didn’t have her first solo show until she was 42 and didn’t receive her first break until she was 60. Unfortunately, she died at 88. Although her career started late, she left an unforgettable mark on the art world.
Nevelson may not have considered herself a feminist, but many men and women look up to her as a historical figure in the feminist art movement. Female artists today will always be indebted to this trailblazing woman.
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