Sometimes the Best Feminism is No Feminism
Written by Carissa DiGiovanni
Editor: Kellie A. Hanna
The Pattern and Decoration Movement of the 1960s and
1970s was female dominated. In fact, as Norma Broude
remarks in her article, “The Pattern and Decoration
Movement,” “it might fairly be claimed that this was
the first time in Western history that women had taken
the leading role in an art movement” (210). However,
there were a few significant male presences, namely
Robert Kushner and Kim MacConnel. Some may conclude
that these men must be, because of their involvement
with this female-dominated movement, high-profile
political participants in the feminist movement. This
conclusion, however, would be erroneous: neither
claimed to be participating in the feminist movement.
Instead, they explained that they merely wanted to
work in a medium that they felt had value, despite its
being devalued by the male Western art world.
However, their insistence upon regarding their
(Western male) participation in this movement as not a
feminist political act, but rather an artistic one,
aided the process of de-marginalization of this art
that was traditionally female and non-Western.
MacConnel and Kushner began working in the Pattern and
Decoration movement because of Amy Goldin’s influence.
They “credit[ed] her with leading them to question
the Eurocentric focus of American culture with its
hierarchal privileging of ‘art-making’ over decorative
work” (Broude, 211). However, their focus in doing
this art was not to represent the marginalization of
the people who traditionally produced it. As Broude
puts it, “Feminism...was not their cause. Nor did
they regard gender as the central determinant of the
aesthetic restrictions against which they chafed”
(212). Instead, as Broude notes, they concentrated on
the sheer universality of the medium: “‘What is
impressive about [decoration],’ MacConnel later wrote,
‘is that it goes on, in abundance, regardless of
class, race, sex, country, or cultural center.
Decoration is nearly everything. What it isn’t is
Fine Art. What the Hell is Fine Art?’” In other
words, MacConnel and other Western male artists like
him merely wanted to acknowledge the ridiculousness of
Pattern and Decoration’s marginalization, given its
usefulness and worldwide importance, especially since
Western male kind of art, which was neither useful nor
globally important, was so valued. They acknowledged
this movement’s artistic rather than political worth.
MacConnel’s and Kushner’s decision to treat a
traditionally female and non-Western form of art with
the same respect as male Western art was not without
repercussions. In fact, they themselves suffered from
marginalization: “along with the women, they too
suffered the gendered backlash of the eighties, even
though—and this is worth reiterating—feminism per se
had never been, in any political sense, the content of
their art or their cause” (Broude, 212). MacConnel
and Kushner had therefore never been feminists in the
political sense—only in the artistic one. This kind
of feminism, however, was most valuable in itself, as
they had de-politicized the artistic expression of
women and non-Westerners in a male and Western world,
in order that their art could be valued just like
Quotes and citations have been
taken from "The Pattern and Decoration
Movement" by Norma Broude, from The Power of
Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s,
History and Impact by Norma Broude and Mary D.
Garrard, eds. Published by Harry N. Abrams, October 1996.
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