Art of the 1970s November 8, 2019
The period of the late 1960s and early 1970’s offered a fresh definition for creative production. This period marks the birth of contemporary art, also known as ‘Postmodernism’. It was a period of change, greatly influenced by the hippie movement and student protests of 1968.
The 60s generated a number of new art movements, such as conceptual art and minimalism, as well as performance and installation art. These new ideas continued to grow and influence the art of the day right through the 70s, too.
Art, and how society viewed women artists, began to change. Until this time, few female artists were acknowledged. This all began to change around this time, in part, thanks to artist and feminist, Judy Chicago, as well as female art historian, Linda Nochlin. Nochlin’s 1971 book, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ is credited as being the first major treatise on the historical role of female artists.
With the passion brought on by anti-war demonstrations, civil and gay rights actions, and women’s rights, feminist art stepped boldly forward. Addressing the social, political, and cultural concerns of womanhood, feminist artists sought to include a women’s perspective on the historical notion of important art.
The Land Art
Sculptor, Robert Smithson, was one of the early practitioners of a new kind of art known as ‘Land Art’. From an artistic perspective, Land Art was new for a couple of reasons. First, it made use of earthen, geological materials, such as rocks and boulders, soil and vegetation. Just as importantly, it was generally constructed in remote, and even inaccessible sites. Smithson’s most important sculpture, entitled ‘Spiral Jetty‘, is a stone construction on the edge of a Utah lake. It might even be said that Land Art was the first artistic symbol the emergent ecological movements to follow.
Technically speaking, ‘Gutai’ was a Japanese art movement started in 1954. I reference it here, because the radical ideas assoicated with Gutai were a major influence on the conceptual and performance art popularized in the 60s and 70s. Shirago Kazuo’s 1955 presentation, ‘Challenge To the Mud’, where he rolled, half-naked, in a pile of mud, remains one of the most notable events assoicated with the Gutai group.
Following in the tradition of Gutai, Yoko Ono famously created ‘Cut Piece’, wherein audience members were encouraged to come on stage and cut off a piece of her clothing. Making use of the naked female body as a tool, the performance artists were trying to bring attention to the sociology and sexuality of women in society and in art. Works like Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, first performed in 1964, and Abramovic’s Rhythm O, brought attention to the abuse of the female body. Going to absurd lengths, artist Chris Burden, in the name of protest art, even asked his friend to shoot him with a .22 calibre rifle!
So you see, he 1970s was a time of change in all aspects of North American culture, and the art of the 1970s was a reflection of this. The new art movements examined, not only the role of women in society and art, but the meaning and nature of art in the modern era. And of course, in today’s modern world, the artist continues to be ‘the messenger’, and the beat goes on!