Photograph of Woman's Building founders (from left to right) Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven, from a 1973 Feminist Studio Workshop brochure.
After attempting to create feminist art programs at California State University at Fresno and the California Institute for the Arts, Judy Chicago, Arlene Raven, and Sheila de Bretteville decided that the only way to free themselves from the constraints of male-dominated institutions was to create an alternative art program. This letter solicited potential students for the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW). It represents the earliest articulation of the founders' goals for feminist art education. As Chicago, Raven, and de Bretteville indicated, the Feminist Studio Workshop emerged out of the larger women's movement of the 1970s. Many of the pedagogical techniques employed in the FSW, such as consciousness-raising and revisionist art history, were derived from the women's movement. The founders anticipated that the FSW would become part of the vibrant feminist community that existed in Los Angeles. Initially the FSW occupied the Woman's Building, a space shared with several other feminist organizations. Unfortunately, after the FSW relocated downtown in 1975, it became both geographically isolated from many of the women's groups in Los Angeles.
This document also reveals that, like other feminists of this era, the founders of the Feminist Studio Workshop believed that a certain amount of separation from the male world was necessary for women to explore the insights about gender that participation in the movement revealed. While this separatism has come under harsh criticism by scholars of the movement, this strategy is one that is frequently employed in emerging social movements.
Feminist Studio Workshop
We live in a unique moment in history — one in which women are discovering their identities, experiences and heritage. Many of us are struggling to find new ways to express our developing self-knowledge. The emerging consciousness of women is and has been outside the 'mainstream' culture, and for this reason the content of our work has been bypassed by interpretations which could not reveal it. Society is contemptuous of female experience and rejects, devalues or ignores it and its projection as the content of women's creative activity. Although women throughout history have expressed their femaleness in their work, that work has not been perceived on its own terms. It is now time to change the perspectives through which their work and ours is seen. Only in an alternative context can new work be made and an appropriate perspective on women's work, past and present, be developed. The Feminist Studio Workshop will provide us with the means to create an alternate context.
The three of us — an artist, a designer, an art historian — have joined together because we believe that only by developing unique possibilities for ourselves and our work can we grow personally and with other women, affect society by affecting its perspectives. In bringing together our now compartmentalized professions we hope to give to each woman the full potential of these merged disciplines. We have all initiated feminist programs within male-dominated institutions, and we found that there were profound contradictions in that situation. In order to accomplish our goals, we must, therefore, be outside that frame of reference and its destructive values.
We will communicate our new consciousness by developing forms which are consistant with that consciousness. This can only be done if we invent other options, choices which have been closed off by the arbitrary separations between artist, designer, critic and audience. Deriving from content that emerges from particular needs, ideas and feelings of women, we will invent an approprite form language to concretely express ourselves.
The Feminist Studio Workshop is part of the growing energy and awareness in the women's community in Los Angeles and will contribute to and participate in that excitement. Women will work regularly in the studio, do consciousness-raising, read women's literature and history, examine women's art history and engage in serious citical debate. We anticipate an enrollment of thirty-six women, which will allow us studio facilities, simple tools, a darkroom, duplication facilities, archival material and slide files of women's work. Women are free to structure their work along lines of personal interest. Special projects will be available in feminist art history, research techniques, archival skills, publication design, graphic skills, and various artmaking processes. Women will be encouraged to develop creative processes that are most consistent with their own needs.
The Feminist Studio Workshop is an intensive, year-long program.
Enrollment in the Feminist Studio Workshop is $750 per year. A $50 deposit ensures a place in the program. The remainder of the membership fee must be paid by September 15th, 1973. No refunds are given.
—Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville, Arlene Raven
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