Paper about Art and Feminism, 1974, page 6

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Rose Gonzalez and two of her award-winning pots (Pueblo, N.M.). Courtesy: Exxon Company, U.S.

Still another issue raised by the examination
of nineteenth-century women artists is that
of the democratization of the very creation
of art. I have been looking more seriously
at decorative art since my involvement in
the women's movement. for the decorative
arts are one of the realms in which women
were “permitted" to express themselves in
the past. in the course of investigating the
work of American women artists of the nine-
teenth century, especially those of the

Peale family, I found out that there were a
whole group of what are known as
“theorem” painters: women painters who
painted from patterns or stencils; these were
the ancestors of our paint-by-dot kits. There
were in fact rule books and stencils?-
(“theorem" meant stencil)~——so that women
could make their own works of art by using
stencils, following directions about what
colors to apply, using sample patterns and
so on. According to one authority in the
field in nineteenth-century America women
turned away from more elaborate types of
embroidery, lacemaking, and stitchery
because they simply did not have time to do
it in the New World. They wanted an easier,
quicker means of self-expression: theorem
painting was one way of doing it.

In a certain sense, then the democratization
of art-making took place in the United States
in the hands of women. One may or may

not think this is a good thing: the issues of
"creativity" or “individual expression”
raised by such procedures are far from
clear. Perhaps painting from stencils was a
kind ofconceptual art before its time.

It raises all sorts of interesting issues but

it is not so far away from the intention
behind what Seurat and the Neo-lmpression-
ists were to do later on in France. Seurat
and his friends, Signac, Cross and the
others, were ardent practising anarchists
who really believed in the democratization of
art. They believed in painting subjects from
everyday life, in painting working.-class
suburbs: the Island of La Grande Jatte has
to do precisely with ordinary and upper-
class people mixing in a working-class out-
ing place. And Seurat and his friends also
tried to invent a system whereby the making
of art could be universally available to all.
His friend, Charles Henry, invented some-
thing called the aesthetic protractor which
was a method of judging lines and colors
suitable to the mood and subject you wanted
to express. Seurat codified his system,
saying that lines above the horizon created