House of Women
A Conference on Feminist Art and Culture in the Eighties
at California State University at Long Beach
Participating artists included: Cheri Gaulke, Suzanne Lacy, Eloise Klein Healy, Judy Chicago, Arlene Raven, Marilyn Gottschall, Sondra Hale, Kathy Rae Huffman, Lucy Lippard, Gail Dubrow, Betty Brown, Mina Caulfield, Edith Folb, Connie Jenkins, Linda Vallejo, Judy Baca, Sheila De Bretteville, Mary Beth Welch, Bonnie Engdahl, Sherna Gluck, Deborah Rosenfelt, Bonnie Zimmerman, Carol Burr, Gayle Kimball, Deena Metzger, Gloria Orenstein, Gloria Kurek.
LINDA VALLEJO, Chicana Sculptor, Member of Flores de Aztlan, Art Director of Academia Quinto Sol, Inc.
Presentation entitled THE LIVING ARTS CHOICE
PREMISE: Artists derive their creative energies and support systems from a central cultural, community source which holds a tradition for the artist. This source is the ‘living’ arts. The ‘living’ arts are not the ‘folk,’ ‘fine’ or ‘market-arts.’ The ‘living’ arts are a part of the ever-growing cultural elements of humankind. These arts are not institutionalized or bound to money. An artist who dedicated an entire life to creating and sharing artistic statements must make art a part of their daily lives; including and becoming a part of continuing cultural tradition. All cultures contain these springs of growth inspiration and support for the artists.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO ABOVE PREMISE:
Multiple multi-culture women artists will be a part of a slide show presentation presenting women who have made the ‘living’ arts choice. Women who have dedicated their artistic abilities to tradition and culture. Chicana, Jewish, Black, American, Indian, White and Asian women works will be presented to portray the ‘living’ arts woman, how she works within her particular cultural tradition and her life choices within society in the United States.
Where do artists gain their inspiration? How does an artist survive a life’s dedication to the arts? From what well or spring does the energy to live as an artist in this day and age come from? What choices does an artist have? Artists have several choices. A few categories have been listed as a part of this presentation. People speak of the ‘fine’ arts movement and choice. I understand fine arts, as an institutionalized art form, which depends on the larger institutions of modern culture for patronage and support. Museums, universities and gallery systems along with corporations which support the ‘fine’ artist with monetary needs and exposure are a part of the fine arts world. The fine artist is placed in a position of being ‘unique,’ a ‘forerunner.’ The fine artist spends much of his/her life in a cool studio and sends their work for exhibit in cool surroundings of an antiseptic institution. The fine arts are closely aligned with another area I’ll call ‘market-arts.’
The ‘market-arts’ is art for sale. Art made for the marketplace; art which is made specifically for monetary profit. This art must contend with market trends and contemporary buying habits and needs. An artist, in order to survive in this modern 20th century life, may devise an art object or service simply to make a living. Fine artists must also contend with market buying trends.
Another choice is that of the ‘folk’ arts. If an artist accepts the label of a ‘folk’ artist, they are relinquished to the institutional study of ‘dead’ and ‘lost’ cultures. To be a ‘folk’ artist is simply to repeat the ideas of cultures from ‘long-ago,’ thereby remaining stagnant as a contemporary creative person. Large museums and institutions connect the ‘folk’ arts of many countries in order to study world culture. Objects are taken out of their original cultural matrix to be analyzed and collected. Many cultural artists creating contemporary traditional works are improperly labeled as ‘folk’ artists and never allowed into the larger institutional ‘fine’ art category. Both ‘fine’ and ‘folk’ are only contemporary labels.
The fourth category is one that I have adopted in order to share an understanding of art making. This category I will call the ‘living’ arts. ‘Living’ arts are those arts which embody a living cultural tradition; containing a community, its people and its lifestyle. A living artist is one who lives arts as a part of each day and each personal experience.
All of us accomplish many things in order to survive as artists. Some of us enter into the fine are, folk art, and market art areas in order to subsist. But where does an artist receive inspiration? The living arts involve the carrying on of a tradition. As I began searching for artists who would understand my concept of the living arts, I encountered a hopi woman who makes baskets. Her family weaves multiple baskets each year for weddings, naming ceremonies, and festival and ceremonial occasions. Her portfolio of art is never stagnant in a studio or gallery settings. Instead her works are constantly being given as gifts to people on occasions during the completion of the ceremony, called the giveaway. The woman teaches her children basket-making and was taught by her mother. She returns to her homeland to prepare the grasses and dyes needed to make her baskets. The completion of her work involves an entire community of relatives and friends, a special land where dyes and fibers are collected, and the rich cultural tradition of this woman’s history. When all of her ‘home’ baskets are completed, Loretta teaches a class and maybe sells a basket to help ends meet or she may even give a basket as a return to a favor or repayment of a dept. Josephina Gallardo is a dancer. She teaches at the Braille Institute to the blind. She uses her dance to heal. All year round she offers her dance in cultural ceremonies within the Chicano community. She incorporates her lifestyle within the lessons that she learns from cultural leaders and dancers. In her life she is surrounded by a community which understands the dance as an offering to the people and future generations. Her artwork becomes more than part of a market, more than simply institutional and certainly not a part of a dead or lost society.
If an artist is to blossom, the artist must have a solid foundation of growth, inspiration and a community of support. Once I was asked which artists have influenced my personal work. I replied the artists that I know, here in L.A. These are the people that I watch struggle through hard times, who speak to me about work and the meaning of the life tithe we have chosen. Before an individual can offer an object or belief to the larger community to guide or teach, that artist must place their life and work in order. A dedication to one’s cultural tradition is a basic and complete place to begin and finish personal development.
Art is the teaching tool of culture. Art is the form in which lessons are brought to all people. The evolution of an art form is found in the evolution of a culture; the ways in which it expresses itself, its values, and structure. In contemporary life, here in California there are several artists who address this concept of art as a tool. They make art which not only expresses themselves as individuals, but also expresses a living cultural tradition. Art is a vehicle that carries a special message to the community about the ideals which are important to more than just the artist alone. The artist then becomes a tool of culture. What better place, rather than becoming a tool of money or power, to become a tool of culture; the community and the people who surround you, in common goals of humanity, beauty and teaching and inspiration.
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