Even in the past, I contend, the exclusion of women from the artistic realm could not extinguish all their aesthetic needs. These creative impulses, however, were shunted off into the ‘pre-aesthetic realms,’ where they evaporated under the strain of women’s daily routine. Women furnished the living quarters, set the tables, arranged, decorated and adorned their clothing, and above all themselves. That was allowed, as long as it was being done to please the man. These activities quickly corrupted women. They set the table for the man, they dressed and adorned themselves for the man—not for themselves or for each other, but rather in competition with each other. They busied themselves weaving and knitting, but such functional artworks, handicrafts, and decorations have always been considered inferior, commonplace. This verdict is of course not entirely unfair, especially in those cases where even the most timid efforts were channeled into subservient obsequiousness and excessive affection-seeking.
…On the one hand we see aesthetic activity deformed, atrophied, but on the other we find, even within this restricted scope, socially creative impulses which, however, have no outlet for aesthetic development, no opportunities for growth. These impulses could not be concretely realized, nor could they lead to an artificial desire to experiment.
It is true that these activities never had to become static, unchanging artistic norms. They never became obsolete products, they remained bound to every-day life, feeble attempts to make this sphere more aesthetically pleasing. But the price for this was narrowmindedness. The object could never leave the realm in which it came into being, it remained tied to the household, it could never break loose and initiate communication…
But what would happen if someday we cleared out this realm and opened it only to ourselves and other women? What if we alternated painting our faces with painting on canvas? What if we turned recipes into poetry? What if all these activities were to shed their utilitarian rationale of male approval?
Attempting to knit the gap between the artistic realm and social reality is problematic in that this gap is not simply the result of foolish blunder but is rather the result of particular preconditions. …However, it is difficult simply to go back, optimistically to take up again those ‘feminine’ media—letters, weaving. It is, in fact, almost more difficult to do this than to work with the ‘unfeminine’ technical media such as film, since these need not contend with being traditionally relegated to the domain of the housewife. We should not foster the false assumption that our sewing teachers indeed pointed us in the right direction. There is no direct path from the decorative potholder to the tapestries of Abakanovicz. Besides, I am still horrified by the whole ruffles-and-sewing-basket business we were subjected to as young girls.
I believe that feminine artistic production takes place by means of a complicated process involving conquering and reclaiming, appropriating and formulating, as well as forgetting and subverting.