Miriam Schapiro Essay, Research Paper
“Sources of her art were inseparable from her history and from the historical times in which she lived. Hence the politics of biography One’s art is, after all, oneself ” This statement by Frida Kahlo is an accurate reflection of the artistic life, led by American artist Miriam Schapiro. Her work was based around her life, and the inspiration needed to source her production was extracted directly from the era in which she existed, and the effect it had upon her as a person and an artist. Living with issues based upon the theme of Women in Society, Schapiro had a desire as an artist and a role as a homemaker. Combining the two became the base of Schapiro’s work, and her struggle for recognition was her motivation. Schapiro’s work reflects the personal journey within the constricted society of a specific era, and her accomplishment of overcoming the many confines she faced.
Miriam Schapiro, during her life was exposed to issues in the 1950’s onwards which influenced her as an artist. Her work was based on these issues, and “in examining the contradictions of her life through art, Schapiro has recognized the canvas as a site for critical exploration and has claimed through it the authority to give shape to her being.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:14) Her endeavor to find her place as an artist, during a period where female artists were still being viewed as ‘hobbyists’, proved only to be inspiration for her work. Her initial “sense of the world as being a place where only a man could work,” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:22) and her desperation to be recognised as more than just a homemaker, were the motivations behind her struggle as an artist. Miriam Schapiro was playing a significant role in the attempt to destabilize the prejudice and raise the issues of feminism and art and in 1971 she founded, with Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program. (Gouma-Peterson:1999:15) The Program, was the inspiration Shapiro needed, and her art became a celebration of the awareness that her position as a mere housewife was significant. As Schapiro explained, she “wanted to explore and express a part of [her]life which [she] had always dismissed-[her] homemaking, [her] nesting.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:15) Miriam Schapiro’s art was shaped by the issues she was forced to contend with as a female artist, and from her awakening awareness Schapiro grew to develop her own personal techniques shaped by her history.
Much of Schapiro’s life was spent attempting to find the balance between her role as a homemaker and her talent as an artist. The conflict she regularly contended with and an impetus for creativity arose throughout Schapiro’s life and work. Her perception that her role in life was the basis for artistic creativity encouraged Miriam to improvise and utilize modernistic techniques. “In 1972 Schapiro began to create her layered femmages (a term she invented), combining acrylic paint and pieces of fabric into a new kind of collage with a specific meaning for and about women.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:15) She utilized iconic images such as eggs, aprons, the heart, fans, houses for the purpose of celebrating women’s creativity within their confines and their absence from history. Contesting the view that woman are an uncomplicated singular entity, Miriam “restructures these images [of women], layers them and reframes them,” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:144) adding the complexity she’s attempting to characterize. Schapiro’s work depicts a personal journey within the era of controversial debate, with particular pieces demonstrating significant personal experiences.
Schapiro’s feelings and emotions were often vigorously portrayed within her works, her art was a reflection of the era and personal experiences she savored. Three subsequent works The House, Dialogue and Once Upon a Time, are pieces of Schapiro’s which use symbolism and demonstrate the female presence by introducing an egg. The house includes a vertical tower in which an egg is entering it or being expelled from it. “Too large to be contained within the house, the powerful and very strongly modeled egg is both ready to rupture the confines of the rigid vertical borders and to exit from them.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:54) Dialogue, portrays two eggs, one inside and one on the outer limits of a similar tower. “Here aspects of the fertile woman entrapped within the tower and appended outside it coexist, engaging in a dialogue.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:54) Once Upon a Time offers similar symbols, with an egg taking over the tower structure. The painting suggests a temporary harmonizing with the confines of the house and the fertile woman. (Gouma-Peterson:1999:54) The issues within these paintings, as with so many of Schapiro’s piece expose her relationship with the creative woman, the tensions between the two characters and the sporadic reconciliation.
The 1980’s saw a development in Schapiro’s work and she moved to create a ‘dance’ series. These canvases, I’m Dancin’ as Fast as I Can, Master of Ceremonies, and Moving Away, provided a means for Miriam to shape herself and integrate the male and female aspects of her personality. In the entire trilogy the figure is attempting to “form her identity,” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:103) The first two pieces see the male figure in top hat and tails, remain as the dominant figure. In I’m Dancin’ as Fast as I Can, the female figure is “frantically resisting her induction into the masquerade of femininity, while at the same time being drawn into it.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:103) The second piece portrays the women as a rag doll and a vamp, both who lack equated strength to the male leading them in the festivity. Moving Away demonstrates the progression of the figure, “she is literally moving away from the socially constructed female prototype to enter the world in some other, not as yet clearly defined form.” (Gouma-Peterson:1999:103) In these three pieces, Schapiro has demonstrated her personal technique of femmages, layering different materials that are affiliated to the female gender. Confronted by Miriam Schapiro in these pieces is the formation of women and their attempts to find place in society, an issue that is a constant topic within her life.
Miriam Schapiro’s artistic life, was never far removed from the life she led away from the canvas and paintbrushes that shone so abundantly within her existence. “Sources of her art were inseparable from her history,” as Schapiro threw her soul into her production. Her role in life as a homemaker was her most significant problem as well as her biggest inspiration. Rather than ignoring the dilemmas she confronted, Schapiro manifested these reservations into creative exhibitions harmonized with “the historical times in which she lived. One’s art is, after all, oneself “