Feminist Art vs. Women’s Art: What Is The Difference?

Mar 20, 2024 | Art Insights

Written By: Chiara Atoyebi

1880s vintage poster, group of men in rows and women being coronated in the center underneath four presidents.

Kurz & Allison Lithography Company. “The Coronation of Womanhood.” National Portrait Gallery. http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/sm406687dc1-eba2-4f74-a08a-2a3506cede1d

Feminist Art vs. Women’s Art

Feminist art and Women’s art are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they represent two distinct concepts in the art world. Feminist art is a category of art associated with the late 1960s and 1970s feminist movement, focusing on themes of gender equality, patriarchy, and the experience of women. It is often political and seeks to challenge and change societal norms and stereotypes about gender roles.

On the other hand, Women’s art refers more broadly to any artwork created by women. It does not necessarily carry the same political or social motivations as Feminist art; instead, it encompasses a wide range of styles, themes, and perspectives as diverse as women themselves. While Feminist art is inherently tied to activism and gender discourse, Women’s art is not limited to these themes and can be about any subject matter or concept.

Hein, Laura Elizabeth, Rebecca Jennison, and Taeko Tomiyama. Imagination without borders: feminist artist Tomiyama Taeko and social responsibility. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan, 2010. Image. https://www.loc.gov/item/2020715710/.

Feminism and Its Influence On Women’s Art 

Feminism started as an activist movement that addressed various social issues related to the rights of women and their supposed place in society. It aimed to address gender inequalities and used political campaigns to bring attention to these disparities. Some of the issues that were initially included, which are still relevant today, are equal pay, sexual harassment and violence, maternity leave, women’s suffrage, reproductive rightsdomestic violence, and women’s liberation, among others.It is important to understand these distinctions to appreciate the contributions and contexts of each category within the broader scope of art history.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The evolution of Women’s art over time is a reflection of the shifting roles and perceptions of women in society. From the early days when women artists were often overshadowed by their male counterparts, Women’s art has grown to become a vital part of the art world. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, women artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi began to gain recognition, although they were still the exception rather than the rule.

As society progressed, so did the opportunities for women artists. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw an increase in female artists making their mark, with figures like Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe challenging the norms of their time. In the 1960s and 70s, the feminist movement played a vital role in advancing Women’s art. Women artists had been underrepresented in the art world for centuries, but this period marked a turning point. Women artists used their artwork to express their perspectives on gender equality and women’s rights, making bold statements that challenged the status quo. They tackled issues such as objectification, discrimination, and the marginalization of women in society. This movement led to the emergence of feminist aesthetics and the recognition of Women’s art as a separate and important form of artistic expression. Consequently, the Feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s played a crucial role in elevating Women’s art to the forefront of the art world. In the 1970s, black women artists made significant contributions to the world of art, challenging stereotypes and amplifying their voices. Most notably artists like Kara Walker and Betye Saar, challenged notions of Black Women, identity, and the institution of slavery with their assemblage and silhouette cut out work. Additionally, Black women garnered their collective power with the establishment of the The Combahee River Collective, a black feminist organization, which convened in the 1970s to formulate a collaborative letter. Their work exemplified the collective power of Black women during this transformative period.

Global Feminism

Poster Courtesy of the Public Domain

Globally, Feminist art contributes to a richer, more diverse cultural tapestry. It challenges the dominance of Western art narratives and introduces stories and aesthetics from underrepresented regions. This inclusivity not only broadens the scope of artistic expression but also fosters greater understanding and empathy among audiences worldwide.

Women At War Exhibition Poster

For example, in Ukraine, the ongoing conflict has inspired a powerful exhibition called “Women at War.” Curated by Monika Fabijanska, this show features works by twelve Ukrainian women artists who have lived through the war. These artists express their experiences, emotions, and resilience through various mediums, including photography, paintings, and installations. The exhibition sheds light on the complexities of geography, historical roots, and the role of women in conflict. It also highlights the ties between Ukrainian national identity, the land, and the figure of the “great mother”.

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Own work by uploader, https://bjornfree.com/travel/galleries/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89071957

In South Africa, Feminist art has had a profound impact on South Africa, challenging norms, amplifying voices, and promoting gender equality. South African photographer Zanele Muholi has dedicated their career to documenting the lives of LGBTQ+ womenTheir striking images not only invite empathy but also demand action, shedding light on the resilience of marginalized individuals.By incorporating a global view, Women’s art today is not just about representation; it’s about creating a dialogue that spans continents and cultures, promoting unity, and celebrating the diversity of women’s experiences.

Ende, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Women’s art and Feminist art, are as diverse as ever, encompassing all styles and mediums. Both of these art forms play a multifaceted role in contemporary society, serving as a mirror, a catalyst, and a record. It reflects the current state of gender dynamics and societal values, offering insight into the lived experiences of women across various cultures and backgrounds. As a catalyst, Women’s art can provoke discussions, challenge preconceived notions, and inspire change by bringing attention to issues such as gender inequality, identity, and representation. Efforts to promote women’s position in society continue through their work in art, marking progress in global society.