In exploring Gloria Orenstein's usage of the term
"ecofeminist artist," women raised the question of
whether ecofeminist art constitutes a genre. Although
Orenstein never specifically defines the term, one woman
observed that her essay names two elements of
ecofeminist-identified art: "nature and the spirit
Some women remarked that throughout the ages
countless artists have depicted nature (Ansel Adams, for
example), but does that make their art ecofeminist? Other
art, such as Barbara Kruger's, is unabashedly feminist, yet
none of us seemed comfortable classifying her work as
ecofeminist. When is feminist art also ecofeminist? Can men
create ecofeminist art? If an artist does not self-identify
as an ecofeminist, does the label "ecofeminist
artist" still apply?
These questions and others were not fully addressed as
many women (including several who considered themselves
artists) grappled with the quandary of putting a label on
art. One woman noted that few artists create with a
particular end product or political statement in mind. It is
the critics, scholars, and public who categorize art,
relegating creativity to a box with a name on it. By
attaching labels to an artist's work, these women felt the
scope of expression is narrowed, stifled, robbed of
Similarly, many ecofeminist writers (notably
Susan Griffin) have declared that it is intrinsically
patriarchal to dissect natureand by extension
artinto controllable units to be codified,
compartmentalized, analyzed, and rendered lifeless.
In response, one woman argued that although labels are a
product of linear (patriarchal) language, until our species
begins to regularly communicate in nonlinear ways
(telepathically, for example), we are forced to use words,
hence labels. Besides, she added, everything already is
labeled. Patriarchy's omnipresent version of reality has been
so thoroughly inculcated in us that we tend to discount the
values invisibly attached to language.
Yet, labels can be
empowering tools. As a classic example, when battering was
finally given a namea labelan entire movement
coalesced. One woman added that defining a work of art as
ecofeminist presents the opportunity to identify and promote
ecofeminist values. To quote Orenstein, ". .
.ecofeminism considers the arts to be essential catalysts of
A few women challenged society's entire concept of art.
One woman echoed the opinion of a woman from the Bloodroot
Collective who says that Art with a capital A is used to prop
up the values of patriarchy, and has nothing to do with Truth
or Beauty. Women's art, often designated "craft,"
is categorically dismissed.
In repudiation of the Art world,
many women claimed that all acts of creativity are
art. As one woman put it, "art is the physical
manifestation of spirit." A mother turning foodstuff
into soup is art. The healing arts is art. Managing a
household is an art. So, one woman facetiously asked, is
managing an investment portfolio art? Likewise skeptical,
another woman felt that such all-encompassing definitions of
art water down the concept, depleting it of any meaning.
Several women vigorously disagreed; the idea that all
creativity is art is empowering, as well as anti-elitist.
There seemed to be an implicit understanding that if there is
such a thing as ecofeminist art, it is surely art, not Art.
Other women shared Orenstein's assumption that there does
exist a body of art called ecofeminist. Expanding upon her
premise that it involves nature and spirituality, they felt
that ecofeminist art is also by definition highly political.
In emphasizing the interconnected web of life that binds
human and nonhuman nature, ecofeminist art calls into
question the misogyny and violence against nature that 5,000
years of patriarchy has institutionalized.
By reclaiming, for
example, goddesses and gynocentric figures as art objects,
ecofeminist artists viscerally popularize the notion that
life-affirming values prevailed for thousands of centuries
before the arrival of patriarchy. To paraphrase Orenstein,
when ancient symbols are fused with modern meanings, highly
charged energy is generated. The power of ecofeminist art
lies in its potential to galvanize humankind, in part by
tapping into our biophilic cellular memory.
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