Miriam Schapiro’s Visit: Part One

Posted by: Cynthia Ann Bickley Green, PhD

Upon the Occasion of Miriam Schapiro’s Visit to the School of Art Of East Carolina University: Evidence of Change

Miriam Schapiro is a Canadian-born artist based in America. She is a painter, sculptor and printmaker as well as a pioneer of feminist art and is considered a leader of the Pattern and Decoration art movement. 

Miriam Schapiro’s visit to the School of Art at East Carolina University in 1999 was a significant event for many of the faculty and students who attended her lecture and studio critiques.  Older faculty members who were professionally engaged in teaching and creating during the 1970s were moved to recall their memory of Schapiro and her work from the past meetings and exhibits and compare it to the present.  Younger persons reflected upon their own creative stances and their orientation to the past, present, and future.  The writing and thoughtful reflections of the five artists who have collaborated with me give glimpses into the thoughts that were provoked by the visit of a leading woman artist of the last half of the 20th century to the university.  The views of the writers reveal the multifaceted experiences and thoughts that can be generated by one speaker and how these different views add texture and subtlety to a shared event and knowledge about the person who generated the comments.

One of the five artists who collaborated was Leland Wallin, Associate Professor of Painting at the School of Art, and Adviser to the Painting Guild.
“As a School of Art painting professor who advises the student Painting Guild, I facilitate funding and solicit names for potential guest art lectures.  Response brought to mind by Miriam Schapiro’s April, 1999, visitation are necessarily tangential, meriting mention for those either not around in the 1960’s-70’s or those not satisfied with progress since then.

At that time, realist artists and feminists held common interests in challenging the status quo that excluded them and other minorities.  This progressive linkage is evidenced by the fact [that] authors Linda Nochlin and Cindy Nemser addressed both realist art and female inequality.

In 1970, as a new professor, I curated one of the early university New Realism exhibits and was aware that many of these artists rallied at the Figurative Artist’s Alliance meetings in Manhattan where ideas and emotional support was shared, not unlike the support group need which seemingly precipitated women’s caucuses.  Now in retrospect, feminists are sometimes lumped together as radical fringe (bra burners) while realist artists are sometimes dismissed as a post-Pop anomaly–a misnomer fortified by the false impression that photo sources and banal subjects really had much to do with initiating the realist revival.

This subversion of social motives and historical substance may cause some to believe realism and feminism have lost their long-term credential.  For example, if one reads the May 1999 ARTnews magazine cover story “The Century’s 25 Most Influential Artists,” it is obvious not one realist (not even Edward Hopper or Phillip Pearlstein) and only two women are among the twenty-five.

Miriam Schapiro’s reportedly stated progress is not ultimately achieved by impersonal reform movements but by small increments during one-on-one conversations.  (She asked that no art faculty or other art students by present while she privately spoke with Painting Guild members.)  In this regard, quiet examples of progress are evident on campus where, for example, I have just introduced a new portrait painting-from-life course in to the curriculum.  The Painting Guild president, numerous guest artists, and several new hires have been women.

As an individual artist, I have never considered either still life painting or the toy objects I depict in still-lifes to be gender based, though there are those who have suggested they should or could somehow be considered the domain of women.  Their views assume both still life and women are exclusively domestic, which makes no sense to me as an artist, teacher, husband, or father.

It is my hope teachers can clarify that while short term prefabricated views of cultural events will come and go, it is the enduring fiber of individuals which weaves the long term fabric of art history and social progress.”

Image courtesy of Heresies Film Project  

The above is an excerpt from an article with the same title.

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