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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Review: !Women Art Revolution

Quick! Can you name three women artists?

I’m taking a brief break from my immersion in SIFF films to talk to you about !Women Art Revolution, a compelling documentary that opens today in NYC, which explores the dawning of the feminist art movement through archival footage and spontaneous interviews gathered by director Lynn Hersham Leeson over 40 or so years. And even if you think you know everything there is to know about feminism and art, I can pretty much guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know watching this film.

This film is timely and relevant, not only to women in art and film, but in the way those issues cross-pollinate to other areas of women’s lives; in fact, I would argue that there are very few areas in which gender relations do not impact your life, and yours, and yes, even yours. Even if you’re a feminist studies professor, even if you’re a female artist or film director or writer. Even if — perhaps especially if — you are a conservative fundamentalist Christian wife and mother and “helpmeet” living out a traditional, patriarchal gender role in the heart of the Republican Midwest.

The feminist art movement — and the women at the center of it — challenged assumptions about gender roles and the place of women in the world of art, which was (and still is to a large extent) controlled and determined by men. Leeson captures the rise of the feminist art movement in the United States, which was birthed, not coincidentally, with the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, Berkeley, Kent State, Vietnam War protests, free love, Roe Vs. Wade, and a rising divorce rate. Because, as many of the women interviewed herein attest, as they became more enlightened into the role gender plays in determining societal place, it often became necessary for them to end their marriages in order to reinvent themselves as feminist women.

With conservative politicians, preachers and pundits deriding the feminist movement as a significant cause of the rise in divorce rate and subsequent “decline of the American family,” it’s absolutely imperative that positive messages about female empowerment and gender disparity are seen and heard.

Gender issues affect everything from how much women are paid in comparison to men for doing the same work; to whether a woman with children will get passed over for a job in favor of a male colleague; to whether your daughter will receive the same attention and subtle messages of disempowerment from the teachers who will have charge over her for a significant percentage of her waking hours throughout her childhood; to bullying in schools and on playgrounds; to human sex trafficking; to the harrowing statistics for rape both her in the US, where (according to the Department of Justice) a woman is raped every TWO MINUTES; to rape as a weapon of war throughout the world.

Gender equality and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s are the cornerstone out of which the feminist art movement grew; unfortunately, the issues raised through the history traced in !Women Art Revolution are as relevant in 2011 as they were in 1970. We may have come a long way, baby … but we’ve not come nearly far enough.

!Women Art Revolution has the distinction of having played at Toronto, Sundance and Berlin and opens today at New York City, with screenings nationwide coming your way. Check it out — it’s even coming to Oklahoma City (no doubt thanks to my friend Brian Hearn, who curates at the OKC Museum of Art). If it’s coming to your town, go, go, GO and see it. Bring your teenage daughters and sons, or get together with a pack of smart, creative types and get inspired.

This doc is real gem — as relevant to the feminist art movement as Exit Through the Gift Shop was for street art, albeit less flashy in its composition. If you love art, or have any interest at all in film, art, and the place women have in those disciplines, you don’t want to miss this.

Upcoming screenings:

June 1-7 IFC Center New York, NY

June 10 The Screen at Studio 2 Santa Fe, NM

June 15-19 Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA

June 17-23 Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 Los Angeles, CA

June 17-23 Northwest Film Forum Seattle, WA

June 23-26 Oklahoma City Museum of Art Oklahoma City, OK

June 24-30 Denver Film Society Denver, CO

June 24-27 Northwest Film Center Portland, OR

July 1 Real Art Ways Hartford, CT

October 5 International House of Philadelphia Philadelphia, PA

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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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