The issues of gender bias in the history and art have created implications in identifying the contributions of women in the development of avant-garde art masterpieces. In some cases, their contributions have been overlooked, ignored, or even attributed to men artists. However, the assessment of the nature of modernism shows there are distinctive achievements of the women in the development of avant-garde art. In other words, the female artists were influential in the creation and promotion of avant-garde works. The most notable enhancements were seen in Russia because modernism in this country has a remarkably complex history. The most distinguishing aspects of artistic life in Russia were the prominence of many women artists and the development of a radically new type of art object called the Russian avant-garde book. Although these phenomena are usually discussed separately, there were several of eras of artwork led by women artists such as Natalia Goncharova, Olga Rozanova, Lyubov Popova, and Varvara Stepanova. And, although these women are primarily remembered for painting, they were at the forefront of the Russian avant-garde. The paper will, therefore, discuss a critical role that women artists played in the development of avant-garde art in the earlier 20th century.
Many of the works that were created by the women artists were as innovative and attractive as the results of their efforts in other areas such as theater and designing. Indeed, many of their books stand among the most significant monuments of the graphic art of this period. Therefore, despite the fact that women are accorded a secondary status in the development of avant-garde arts in the then society, they virtually played a crucial part in it (Butler & Schwartz, 2010).Women artists such as Popova and Goncharova demonstrated individual talent, ambition, and the ability to achieve perfection in their successful artworks. Whereas most female artists came from wealthy backgrounds, had a good education, and the opportunity to advance studies at art schools, they became successful in challenging the patriarchal systems that limited the opportunities of women to engage in art at that time (Gaze, 2013).
Furthermore, in the wake of 20th century, these artists from Russia came into contact with the European avant-garde, whose example offered them an alternative to the conservative academic traditions in their home country. Therefore, like their male counterparts, and led by Goncharova and Popova, they travelled to other countries such as France and Italy (Butler & Schwartz, 2010). As a result, they learned about modernist movements in Europe such as cubism and expressionism. Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven, a German painter, a sculptor and an actress, was also an influential figure in the development of avant-garde. For one, she was a trained actress, performer, and had close affairs with popular artists in Berlin and Italy (Reilly, 1997). Her contributions as a female artist were enhanced through the Dadaism movement that was later attributed to avant-garde. In some of her works, she combined the different elements that depicted a new era in the artworks. Arguably, she was also involved in the creation Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (Reilly, 1997).
Besides, although in the arts, the women were closely associated with prominent male artists, they were equal partners and the influence was reciprocal. Specifically, they socialized, painted, and debated on issues together. The women participated in the same exhibitions, wrote the same manifestos, and sought the same type of recognition as the male artists (Butler & Schwartz, 2010). In this case, they did not serve as subordinates or disciples; they were in the center of the development of modernism as any of the male painters. For these reasons, the relatively high status of the women artists in relation to the males was very important: it forced the males to see the women artists as their allies and equals (Kersh & Kimyongür, 2007). Together they shared a commitment to avant-garde and a passionate belief they are able to change the world.
Similarly to men, within the pre-revolutionary avant-grade, the female artists had a significant influence. They organized public meetings where they appeared in outrageous costumes with painted faces. They also engaged in riotous activities that were meant to attract the attention of the public to their quest for modernism (Birnbaum, 2011). These artists also collaborated on books that combined new forms of poetry based on the subjects of avant-garde. These were collaborative efforts that aimed at publicizing and disseminating the ideas of modernism (Sawelson-Gorse, 2001). For example, Natalia Goncharova was among the first women artists to make early contributions to the avant-garde book. She was prominently included in many of the avant-garde exhibitions that were organized between 1910 and 1914 in Moscow and St. Petersburg. She was also the most famous female artist in the Russian avant-garde for her neo-primitivism paintings (Butler & Schwartz, 2010).
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On a further note, the female artists in other parts of the world also contributed to the development of avant-garde in the same way as the Russian women. They worked closely with the male artists in order to break the ties of domesticity that limited the opportunities for women, For example, Dufau was a French artist who was well acquainted with a host of highly regarded international artists of the school of Paris (Birnbaum, 2011). She encouraged the recruitment on female artists to new groups to ensure that their works would be noted and to eliminate cultural stereotyping. And gradually, the concepts of avant-garde started to develop. Practically, in the early 1930s, some new groups were formed and they forced some old members to leave because their works were considered too traditional (Birnbaum, 2011). Criticism also arose to point out the distinction between two separate groups of female artists. One group was classical whereas the other was amateurish in the display of their art works. That is, there was an extensive use of colors and their collections were composed and executed in a manner that reflected the changes in arts all over the world (Gaze, 2013).
Avant-garde marked the beginning of modernism in artworks. It eliminated the cultural practices slowly and replaced them with the western traditions. The period also opened the first wave of women suffrage activities and the increasing competitive cultural marketplace for women (Sawelson-Gorse, 2001). In essence, the wave of avant-garde brought significant shifts in the perception of gender roles as career opportunities for women began to expand. Practically, women started to explore other areas that were not related to their domestic duties. Therefore, as this movement continued to take roots, it enhanced cultural freedom among the women (Kersh & Kimyongür, 2007). Their works started to be associated with the movements that critically explored various notions of arts as demonstrated by women such as Sonia Delaunay and Vanesa Bell. Both of these artists provide fascinating examples of integrating art practices that cross the divisions of high and low forms of art, as well as abstract and decorative ones (Birnbaum, 2011). The other female artists that had an impact on the arts related to avant-garde include Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova. One more artist, Hannah Hoch, made important contributions to photo-montage because of her connections with Dada and exploration into the ideologies of the new women artists.
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The achievements of the women in avant-garde were also influenced by the relations with Cubist and Fauve movements, as well as their training, especially in the School of Paris. They represented other women through the female nude pictures that slowly gave rise to avant-garde (Birnbaum, 2011). In addition, the involvement and fascination of female artists to Surrealism provided them with powers to inspire other women. For example, Gwen John was a British portraitist, and although she was not involved in a particular movement, she worked as an expatriate women artist in Paris. In the United States, there also were women artists who can be called influential in the early 20th century (Belton & Sawelson-Gorse, 2001). They are Romaine Brooks, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Florine. Like Gwen John, Brooks also worked as an expatriate who produced most of her works in Paris. She is best-known for her striking portraits of members of the lesbian coterie surrounding the American poet, Natalie Barney (Birnbaum, 2011). She established her distinctive women style, and developed large-format flower paintings and highly abstracted cityscapes. In her part, Florine Stettheimer had marvelous decorative compositions that were influenced by her upper class background (Birnbaum, 2011).
In conclusion, a close look on the nature of modernism allows seeing that there are distinctive contributions of the women artists to the development of avant-garde arts at the dawn of the 20th century. There are many female artists from Russia, Europe, and the United States that their artistic pieces shaped the main tendencies in modernism. They took advantage of their wealthy backgrounds, good education, and opportunity to advance studies at art schools to produce the masterpieces that wrote a new history of art on the basis of culture. They adopted the western styles in the form of colorful paintings and female nudes to reduce the domination of the males, in the world of arts in particular. In other words, their extensive art collections were composed and executed in a manner that reflected the latest changes in arts. As a result, these changes marked the development of avant-garde with the women making significant contributions to it as well. Some of the women even worked as expatriates to ensure that their collections would be influential enough to expand the opportunities of the other women in the countries beyond their own. Others were involved in various movements such as Dadaism and women suffrage and many to express their rich inner selves through a multitude of ideologies.