Discussion for classes

Suggested discussion points

In an Art History class, Allie Eagle and Me could serve as an introduction to the Women’s Art Movement, a starting point for research on a number of art history topics, and a resource for exploring how art and film texts can be actively used as a way of communicating a point of view.

It could also be seen as a way to talk about how artists mature and to what extent some ideas and ideologies change as they get older, or remain constant.

For social studies students there is an opportunity to think about social movements, the ways in which they operate and why they become important in society.

Art and Cultural Movements: The Women’s Art Movement and Feminism

Why was the Women’s Art Movement necessary? What kinds of limitations did female artists face? (for example, others expectations about women’s careers as artists, a limited understanding of what constitutes art both aesthtically and politically – the male canon).

Art and art history students could consider the early approaches used by the female artists in the film. What unites the way Allie and Jane Zusters go about making art? Where do they differ? What are the differences and similarities between Allie’s approaches at the beginning of her career as an artist and her approaches now?

What constitues an art movement and how it might be different from a social movement? Contrasting and comparing the Women’s Art Movement with second-wave feminism more generally is one way to highlight the difference.

The Abortion Debate

Why did feminists want abortion law reform and what are some of the philosophical, spiritual and ethical debates surrounding it? What are some of the issues tied up with state provision of abortion and why would a Christian be uncomfortable with them? What kind of position did Allie initially take on abortion and what is it now?

Additional information for those interested in the abortion debate can be found here. Those interested in second-wave feminism in New Zealand and also the feminist postion on the abortion debate may like to view the documentary Sheilas: 28 Years On, directed by Annie Goldson and Dawn Hutchesson (see Sheilas: 28 Years On study guide). Outlines of some Christian perspectives on abortion are available here and here.

Discussion Questions for art history classes

How does the painting This Woman Died I Care express the ideologies/discourses of the Women’s Art Movement?

Allie had a major shift in her thinking and beliefs in the early 80s. Her art practice today reflects some of those shifts. What evidence can you find of these spiritual in the red panel Tough Call?

What similarities are there between the two pieces? What differences? Think about technique, media, rendering of figures, composition and the impact of scale on what imagery is able to be included as well as over-arching ideas/ideologies or discourses expressed. Students can read a detailed description of Allie’s technique in the interview with Allie.

Thinking about the changes that are shown by comparing the two paintings, do you think that a woman’s art movement is necessary today? You need to support your thinking with examples that demonstrate the benefits of having or not having a Women’s Art Movement.

Here is Allie’s sample answer:
Today a conscious way of looking at images of women is possible because of the Women’s Art Movement. It is also possible to use this consciousness or set of language tools because the analysis that 70s feminism offered, though modified, is still very much in in use. There are other world-views too and framing all questions of gender will be determined to a large degree by what lens you are looking through.

We can recognize an isolated solo mother as being a very common part of our contemporary life. These days, in western society she is part of the norm. In the painting Tough Call she has the look of a woman who gets support from the state but is still in a state of struggle. A pregnant unmarried mother or woman with a child does not experience anything of the shame of a woman raising a child without a husband in a past generation, yet she shares in the same sense of isolation.

We can look at Tough Call and read the figure and the surrounding imagery within the context of a dialectic that was created over the last 50 years and tends to increase in its potency as we deliberate on all the ways that human beings set about the task of living.

In Tough Call we see a young woman standing akimbo with a strangely defiant yet pleading/questioning look in her face. She looks out to the viewer. Straddled over her hip is a young infant. Boy or girl, we are not sure. The child looks away from us. She has a name, Mary, which is in gold leaf. Is she the mother of Jesus? Surely not. She is clad in tatty blue jeans and has a very western contemporary look. And she is blonde and blue-eyed.

Her demeanor and the surrounding objects and writings in the painting give us the feeling that we have come upon an important outworking in our 21st Century contemporary position of parenthood, which is suggesting something that is at the same time widespread and both very personal. As an artist my intention was to be speaking to this generation around this very changed notion of motherhood.

Read at the “other’ end of feminism, where the goals of feminist ideology are now in place, have the everyday language of domestic purposes benefits, after-school and preschool child care centers and secondary school and tertiary academic institutions….we are confronted with a young woman’s stare which shows us no kindly Joseph (as in the story of Mary, the supposedly solo mother of Jesus being emotionally supported).

There instead and beside her is a small foetus in a bucket flanking her on her right hand side. An alert looking dog also keeps watch though at some geographical distance from the main figures (in European Christian art when artists had to be clandestine about their faith a dog was often used to represent the faithfulness of Christ). Beneath her feet and to the bottom left, is an image of the risen yet wounded Christ and to her immediate background a young woman puts forth into some swampy waters into a small rowboat. Above and to the right of the picture, hanging, as if out of an abattoir in the sky, is a dead, bleeding lamb. These are all symbols which can be decoded. In the centre of the painting is a dead splayed woman reminiscent of the woman who died nearly 30 years ago of a backstreet abortion. The painting is set into a vivid red landscape with murky swamp waters and a vast hilltop and great sweeping skies. All these emblems have a significance. One piece of text from the Bible in Isaiah 43:18 is written into the work. It says “Forget the former things: do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up do you not perceive it? ”. From this I have wanted to speak across the generations with an empathy that is intentionally meant to carry a message of concern to this and future generations of young women. Whilst offering words of comfort and of warning I think my intention has also been to ask a question about the status of spiritual life in all of this. What has been the cost to us of abortion? Spiritually the changes for that have been wrought by ideology and moral climate and shifts in the economy are all topics for real thought and conversation. How are we living now? How do we want to go on? Have the changes all been ok?

Do women still need to speak to each other about their concerns? Might they do it through art? Is there still a women’s art movement.

I think the answer is Yes, but not as we knew it.

If we are left with a question is there any need of a woman’s art movement now then the question could well be gauged as yes…we still have societal problems and special messages to flag about how women are coping in society.

There are plenty of women artists will still feel very intent on delivering art which signals areas that are of great concern. They may not be called feminist anymore but they will speak of social injustice or and of moral and spiritual concerns.

Art history group research assignment and report

Get students in groups to choose an artist from the Women’s Art Movement in New Zealand and prepare:

  • A timeline of their life, including major artistic turning points
  • An analysis of the techniques used in two major works, one from the 1970s and one from within the last five years
  • A paragraph outlining the artist’s beginning ideology or the rationale for making art and their current position

Each group should report on their artist to the class using whatever presentational aids they like.

As a class compare the various philosophies and artistic techniques of the women in their early careers and use this to generate a picture of the Women’s Art Movement.

As a class critically discuss why the Women’s Art Movement as such no longer exists although women’s art continues. To what extent is gender still an issue for artists?

How do artists benefit from the changes that came about as a result of the Women’s Art Movement? Think about identity and the assertion that “the personal is political” and how this idea has opened up a chance for artists to use their art to discuss the nature of their own experience.

As a class think about Allie Eagle’s contribution to the Women’s Art Movement in relation to her ongoing involvements in academic and community-based arts projects. Identify and critically discuss some of the reasons she is no longer comfortable with the position she expressed in This Woman Died I Care.