Since the beginning of the women’s movement, artwork has played the role of prompting discussion of current feminist issues and introducing new feminist concepts. Though only 40 x 30 inches, Female Rejection Drawing by feminist art pioneer Judy Chicago accomplishes both and speaks volumes about the principles underlying feminism.
Chicago is a virtuous artist with a lifelong repertoire of paintings, drawings, installations, and performance art pieces. Her greatest skill as an artist, however, could well be her leadership. The majority of her best-known works were formed through collaboration with students, fellow artists, and community members. These include the large-scale installations and performance works of Womanhouse, completed in 1972, and The Dinner Party, completed in 1979 (Figure 1, 2). Her 1974 colored pencil and graphite drawing Female Rejection Drawing is an interesting exception to Chicago’s collaborative tendency, as it was produced in isolation (Figure 3). Nevertheless, the work is extremely representative of the foundational beliefs of feminism.
Figure 1: Judy Chicago & Miriam Shapiro et al, Womanhouse, 1972
Figure 2: Judy Chicago et al, The Dinner Party, 1979
The title of the drawing refers to Chicago’s personal experience with rejection. As an emerging artist, she faced undue criticism from her graduate professors, peers, and colleagues for her ‘vagina art’ (Chicago, 11). Modernism of the 1960’s and 1970’s steered away from representative subjects, especially concerning the body. In her own words, “after struggling for acceptance for over a decade, [Chicago] decided to...see if there had been any women before [her] who had experienced the difficulties, the meager recognition, and the isolation [she] had endured” (Chicago, 10-11). She realized by reading 1960’s feminist literature that she was not alone in feeling ostracized (Chicago, 11). The feminist mantra that “the personal is political” was certainly true for Chicago. Upon this realization, Chicago took the stance of rejecting the institutions that rejected her. Her adherence went as far as changing her own name from Judith Sylvia Cohen to Judy Chicago in order to separate herself from patrilineal ties and establish her independence. It is no coincidence that her notion regarding institutional rejection is similar to the prominent feminist objective of deconstructing oppressive, patriarchal norms. The artwork of Chicago attempted to translate her personal experiences into a universal female experience.
Figure 3: Judy Chicago, Female Rejection Drawing, 1974.
This search for universal identity ultimately became a primary criticism of Chicago’s artwork. Her concept of the ‘central core’ was seen by some critics and feminist artists as too essentialist. They felt that Chicago was reducing women to their biological essence or physical body, instead of recognizing them for their individual or collective achievements. The central core is clearly present in Female Rejection Drawing as the stylized flower petals peel away to reveal a vaginal-like form. Balance and symmetry of composition are also critical to the central core. Most of the works by Chicago and her companion artist Miriam Shapiro feature circular forms reminiscent of the “central cavity” (Shapiro). Their abstract, simplified approach to representation leaves room for ambiguity and continuous conversation of feminist issues.
The drawing also possesses an intensity that demands the viewer’s attention. When applying for participation in the California Institute of Arts program (CalArts), Chicago described her desire to “unearth the buried and half-hidden treasures of...cunts and bring them into the light and let them shine and dazzle and become Art” (Gerhard, 595-596). She imbued this same mystical quality to into Female Rejection Drawing through vivid blue, red, and yellow colors that evoke a pulsating sensation within the form.
A hallmark for early feminist theory, Female Rejection Drawing by Judy Chicago challenged the artistic and social norms of the time. Her drawing commented on issues of female isolation and under-appreciation, while simultaneously proposing the revolutionary concept of a universal female experience through central core imagery. This piece contributes to a comprehensive view of the patriarchal landscape of the 1970’s, which can only further illuminate the context of other feminist artworks.
What are your thoughts on Female Rejection Drawing, Judy Chicago, and her central core imagery theory? Do have a favorite piece of Feminist art? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading!
Chicago, Judy. “Joy of Creating.” The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation. London. Merrell, 2007. Print.
Gerhard, Jane. “Judy Chicago and the Practice of 1970s Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, Fall 2011, pp. 591–618. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=70557242&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Shapiro, Miriam & Judy Chicago. “Female Imagery.” Womanspace Journal, 1973, pp. 11-17. Print.