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"Artists As Healers: Envisioning Life-Giving Culture"
by Gloria Feman Orenstein.
From Reweaving the Web: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Reading Was Discussed: April 6, 1992
Present: Colleen M., Catherine C., Lisa B., Cathleen M., Lee-Ann K., Cathy G., Julie S., Cynthia L., Peggy C., Bernadette C., and Christine J.

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 world."

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 imagination.

Similarly, many ecofeminist writers (notably Susan Griffin) have declared that it is intrinsically patriarchal to dissect nature—and by extension art—into 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 name—a label—an 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 change."

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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