page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
Dear Ulrike:

Thank you for asking me for a letter about how my participation in the CalArts Feminist Art Program in 1971-72 affected my life and my art work.
    I am glad that you are interested, even though you noted to me on the phone that you are studying the feminist movement of the seventies because you feel in some way hostile to it. It always makes me sad to hear that: so much of what has changed for the better for women emerges from that time, so much of what is alive of late twentieth century art is a creation of that movement or, whether directly or indirectly, received its permission from it.
 The feminist movement as a whole is one of the most important in the history of civilization and it is a movement of liberation and equality which is far from having accomplished its goals; the phase of that movement that took place in the late sixties and early seventies was incredibly, richly productive - it is an axiomatic cliche that everything that has come after could not have happened if it had not come before. And the intellectual developments within feminist theory in the 1980s refined and enriched feminism further, even though during that time the beliefs of the seventies were severely criticized.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

     In your letter, you wanted to know if I had continued to be an artist, so I will start with an answer to that question: yes, I have been an artist; and also a teacher and a writer, since that time. That I remained an artist was perhaps determined by earlier aspects of my biography: my parents and many of their friends and of my friends were artists, so that the life of an artist was comprehensible to me and making the choice to go to art school for graduate studies had already been a major life choice. And I joined the Feminist Program because I was already interested in feminism: my older sister, Naomi Schor, and her friends were passionately interested in the women's liberation movement. I first heard about CalArts and then about the Feminist Program through my sister's friend, Sheila De Bretteville. But my experience in the Program was formative, giving structure, discipline, and experience to the rest of my life commitment to feminism activism. It was a political leadership training program, if you were able to take it that way.
     I have written about the experience in several essays, and would be happy if you were able to refer to these, for example, "Authority and Learning" and "Appropriated Sexuality," both of which appear in "Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture", a collection of my writings published by Duke University Press, which should be available in March, 1997.

page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

I also refer to it in "Backlash and Appropriation," my chapter in "The Power of Feminist Art". From that volume, I highly recommend Faith Wilding's chapter, which really gives a great sense of the intellectual, political, and artistic fervor of those early years of the Program. I also once answered a series of questions for Miriam Schapiro, in 1990. The following are a slightly edited and lightly updated version of those answers (unfortunately I did not transcribe the questions, but I think they are evident from the answers!). Perhaps they will be of some use to you.

Notes for Miriam Schapiro August, 1990 (updated/edited, 1997)

1. The Feminist Art Program at CalArts was an invaluable experience: consciousness-raising with the goal of developing subject matter for art by women, researching the history of women artists (a ground-breaking activity at the time in the context of American art education); collective art projects (Womanhouse during my involvement with the Program); and the over-all experience of a group of women trying to critique and analyze patriarchal authority and come to terms with power dynamics within the feminist group - the intensive combination of all of these elements was, as I always describe it, BOOT CAMP FOR FEMINISTS!
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

I made my disagreements with Mimi and Judy known when I was in the Program, and I left the Program after one year, because of my disagreements, and because I wanted to experience the school outside the confines of the Program. I have avoided group feminism since then.


(In later years I worked on projects with one other woman, Susan Bee, the co-editor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, and our two person cell was much more efficient than, for example, the feminist collective that produced Heresies, and far less emotionally charged.) However it was a unique privilege to attend feminist boot camp, it was a privilege to participate in the Feminist Program. I consider it a major formative experience in my development as an artist, teacher, and writer/editor.

2. I call myself a feminist, and I have always been identified as such in my professional, public, and private life. As recently as the early 90s, maybe still today, young women have had trouble with the word, because they have bought into what the mass media has presented as feminism, or because they are angry at their feminist mothers, or because it would get them into trouble with men. So I feel it's doubly important to make my self-identification as a feminist explicit and clear, and in all its complexity.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

3. I don't think my "original definition" of feminism, or my original goals as a feminist, have changed, although feminist, psychoanalytic, and other theories have given me a vocabulary to understand opposite positions (including those within feminism) and communicate my ideas more widely and convincingly. (In a sense, my acquisition of "theory language" in the eighties made me a complete "seventies" feminist, in the sense of political activism through editing and writing.)

    I feel that women are a profoundly and tragically under-used resource. Yet the very experience of oppression and marginalization enriches the power of that resource. As an artist, I always wanted to bring my personal experience of living in a female body, my personal connection to that marginalized reality, and my gendered understanding of art history, into high art, in as intact a condition as possible. As a teacher, I've wanted to liberate women art students from a variety of impediments placed in their way, and, often, in their own minds, by patriarchal institutions.

4. I have taught for most of the past 23 years. I've only once taught a class where all the students were women. This happened by accident (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1976).
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
I've only twice taught a course specifically on the history of women artists. The first time, at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, 1988, I had over 50 students, of these only a few men. It was one of the most exhilarating teaching experiences I've had. The students had never heard of most of the women and the ideas I discussed. Some had taken the course almost to dare me, as the professor, to come up with enough material to fill a semester. At the end of the semester, many were brought to the point where they asked an important question: "why weren't we taught this material before?" (this from a senior art history major). Many expressed to me how the material covered had given them a sense of pride in themselves as young women artists. It was very rewarding, very moving, and very depressing, because most students now do not get this kind of information at all.
    Unfortunately the presence of women faculty does not automatically insure feminist awareness or content: women faculty aren't necessarily feminists (in fact, most departments prefer women artists who work within established mainstream styles and who don't appear as if they'll rock the boat), and, almost worse, sometimes feminism, if represented, is represented in an unsophisticated and simplistic way that can be very off-putting to women students.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

    I mostly teach mixed classes, in painting or critical studies, but I make my feminist ideas clear. I also make clear the complexity of my interests, so that students understand that being a feminist is not a dogmatic or one-dimensional position.

(I'm as committed to the practice and study of painting within the history of modernism and postmodernism). I try to be honest and funny, and maybe also contradictory and paradoxical. My male students often react very favorably, sometimes taking to feminism with more alacrity than some of their female peers, because they see it as something hip. The women sense that if they allow their feminist perceptions out, their life will change and they are afraid. Women in the Feminist Program at CalArts had to deal with that fear too. Patriarchy's grip is too tight and has not loosened all that much in 20 years.
    I also co-edited (with another woman artist, Susan Bee) a journal of contemporary art issues, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, which took a feminist position - as an intrinsic part of a wider-based project than just being a feminist journal. I wrote for M/E/A/N/I/N/G, and other publications, including Heresies, and Artforum. Most of my writing has clear feminist content, and I consider the writing as part of my vocation as a feminist educator.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography

My essay "From Liberation to Lack", first published in Heresies 24 and reprinted in Wet deals with the role, precisely, of women of my generation who span two decades of feminist activism and theory, and with developments within feminist art and theory. Other essays have been on women artists, such as Ida Applebroog, Mary Kelly, and Ana Mendieta, and all of these essays have taken a critical position, examining the inner hierarchies within feminist art today.

5. The sad aspect of the education of young women (and men) is that, despite developments within feminism, there is still a need to begin at the same beginnings as the women in the Feminist Program at CalArts.
    The Program came into existence within the context of a vast political and social movement, Women's Liberation. I'm not sure it can be replicated. Its existence at CalArts was facilitated by Paul Brach. Unfortunately within institutionalized art education, it is still usually up to a man to give women such opportunities. Without institutional support, it's hard to keep such educational experiments going: the New York Feminist Art Institute is an example of such failure. I also think that the Feminist Program was stronger and more interesting because it did exist within CalArts.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
Separatism has its value, but isolation and lack of context are deadly. I learned and was marked as much by the Fluxus-influenced atmosphere of the school as by the Feminist Program.
    Students have a mistaken idea that if they have political ideas, they have to do what is generally thought to be "political" art, which isn't possible or appropriate for everybody, and, besides, what kind of art is "political" must be considered more imaginatively.

6. There are more women teaching, although not as many in positions of institutional power as one would wish. There are many more women artists showing than there were 20 years ago, and particularly in postmodernism, women artists have important careers. There is now a tremendous feminist library available on women artists (and every aspect of feminist thought), so that no woman should feel alone or uninformed in her convictions.
    Nevertheless there is still plenty of discrimination against anyone who is perceived as "political." Or, perhaps, these days, some political positions are more glamorous than others.
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
One thing is for certain: no institution willingly gives any power to a person who is truly critical of its basic premises and goals, even when that criticism is blatantly justified - institutions must be forced or shamed, all the time. Otherwise hegemony and patriarchy keep on going totally undisturbed.

    My art work has gone through phases when it is sharply focused on gender representation and other times when other concerns predominate. The "feminist" work is informed by formalist concerns, the "formalist" work is enriched by a feminist subtext, a critical turn of mind.
    I hope that your research has been interesting for you. I hope also that your life will always be enriched by talented and constantly questing women, as mine has been.

Very Best Wishes,

Mira Schor
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrand (ed): The Power of Feminist Art. The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact. New York, 1994

Mira Schor: Wet. On Painting, Feminism and Art Culture. Duke University Press, 1997
page no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 lit. biography
Mira Schor is a painter and writer who lives in New York City. Schor was a participant in the Womanhouse project of the Feminist Art Program at CalArts in 1972 and she received her MFA from CalArts in 1973. She has taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, SUNY Purchase, UC Berkeley, RISD, and Sarah Lawrence College. She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design.
    She was co-publisher and co-editor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, a journal of contemporary art issues between 1986-1996. "Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture, a collection of her essays, was published in 1997 by Duke University Press and has been widely reviewed, inkludig in Artforum's winter 1997 issue of Bookforum, Provincetown Arts, Ms., and Art New England. Publisher's Weekly writes, "These essays, which were previously published in Artforum, Heresies and M/E/A/N/I/N/G, include lucid attacks on the mostly male bastion of art theory and criticism along with thorough analyses of the 'failures' and triumphs of feminist artists," and, "Feminists, artists and other keepers of our subversive fires will certaily find a home in this inspiring collection." Schor is also the author of "Backlash and Appropriation", a chapter of "The Power of Feminist Art", a major historical overview, published by Harry N. Abrams, Fall 1994.
    She has exhibited her work at the Horodner Romley Gallery in New York City, Edward Thorp Gallery, P.S. 1 Museum, the Jersey City Museum, P.S. 122, The Santa Monica Museum, and the Aldrich Museum. In 1998/99, her work will be included in in "The Next Word: Text and/as Image and/as Design and/as Meaning" at the Neuberger Museum at SUNY Purchase and "Memorable Histories and Historic Memories" at Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
    She is the recipient of a 1985 National Endowment for the Arts grant in painting, a 1989 Art Matters, Inc. grant, a 1992 Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting, a 1992 Mary Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation "Space Program" grant, and a 1997 Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant.