Women’s Words, Voice and Vision

Women Artists and Cultural Change

Cleaning out my home office I came across an old syllabus from my first art history class, “Women Artists and Cultural Change”, a class I took at the suggestion of a favorite sociology professor who knew of my interest in gender, feminism and social change. It was in this class that I started to become aware of the role art plays in cultural change.

Though I no longer have the xerox copies of the articles handed out in class (wow, college before the web) I did manage to find one of the items, “And Now A Few Words From Jenny Holtzer” ,  from the Women and Words portion of the curriculum.

Women and Words

Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger are now both well-known artists who, using techniques reminiscent of advertising, incorporate text in their art work.  Both Holzer and Kruger call attention to social issues in their art and often displayed their work in non-traditional settings.

Jenny Holzer’s truisms, delivered like slogans, were often projected on to buildings or displayed in public settings, these provoking thoughts becoming part of the public space.  Barbara Kruger’s art also became part of the public space as her images were included on posters, shopping bags and t-shirts.

I think I developed language skills to deal with threat. It’s the girl thing to do-you know, instead of pulling out a gun ~ Barbara Kruger

After rereading the piece on Holtzer and reminiscing about my experience in this class I started thinking about women’s voice and including women’s ideas in public dialogue.

Raising Women’s Voice

We know that women are the key to healthy children, strong families and stable communities.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has conducted a wealth of research on the topic and Nicholas Kristoff’s book Half the Sky and the Half the Sky Movement are rich with stories and data that support this.  Put very simply, if we want a better world we need to engage and empower women.

It is important that we help to raise women’s voices and listen to women’s ideas. As we think about the future and work to improve our communities, our nation, our world, it is essential that we include insight and commentary from women as part of the public dialogue.

This may also mean that we need to raise our own voice, to share our thoughts and express our ideas. This, of course, can be intimidating.  How do we begin to voice our ideas or encourage others to share thoughts?  Here is where I believe art can be a very power tool in creating change.

Creating a Vision

Art is a powerful medium for self expression, but it is also an effective tool in raising awareness and stimulating social change. Art is a way to convey a message, to call attention to a situation, and a way to express new ideas for the future. Art allows us to express our ideas, to raise our voice and share a vision for the future.

I believe that tapping into the power of art can be a very effective tool in raising women’s voice, including your own voice. Here are a few ways you can use art in this way:

  • Make it a priority to spend time being creative, creative ideas will change the world
  • Have a craft night with friends and make things that can be reused
  • Buy original art and think about the creative energy that went into it
  • Look at and discuss art that makes you uncomfortable
  • Host a movie discussion, talk about how women are portrayed in film
  • Ask artist questions about their work
  • Tell people about your art, what it means to you and why you create
  • Do not be afraid to make art that addresses social issues
  • Start a book club, discuss work by women writers, a few of my favorite
  • Take an art class, dance class, film class – try something new for you
  • Ask a friend to take an art class with you
  • Keep art materials on-hand

Engaging with art can help us in finding our voice. Through creating or experiencing art we begin to think about what we are capable of designing, expressing and making real. Art gives us a way to make something new.  We begin exploring new ideas and can start to create a vision for the future.

In thinking about my first art history class, the work of artists Jenny Holtzer and Barbara Kruger, and importance of women in creating a future I recognize how important art is in creating cultural change, and it is this change that will lead us to new ideas for the future.

2 thoughts on “Women’s Words, Voice and Vision

  1. Sally,

    What a wonderful post! When I was a freshman in college, I discovered the Feminist Art Movement. What struck me was reading accounts of women artists in the middle part of the 20th century. In particular, one woman told how she had to create art in the trunk of her car because her family would not allow her to have a studio.

    I then went on to devote my academic career to this movement (often to the disdain of others!). Thanks again for highlighting the importance of art and women’s voices.


    • Hi Melanie,

      Thanks so much for your response! Learning about the feminist art movement was transformational for me and that first class really did open my eyes to so much. I am so glad to hear that you had a similar experience and that you devoted your academic career to the movement. That’s wonderful!


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