The Chicago Women's Graphics Collective:
(This is a selection from Stacy's BA thesis for Northwestern
University, "Sisterhood is Blooming". It has been
edited for clarity and context.)
"Taking feminist themes
through metamorphoses of thought
A translation in color and print
By process, collective art"
-The CWGC catalogue 1973
Women's Graphic Collective was founded as a cultural artistic committee
or "work group" of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union
in 1970. Shortly after the formation of the Chicago Women's Liberation
Union, in September 1970, Estelle Carol, Tibby L., Helene M., Candida
H., Barbara C., and Valerie W. formed the Chicago Women's Graphics
Collective. The collective, composed of women interested in promoting
the agenda of the women's liberation movement and other political
and social causes, did not require its members to have formal academic
training. The collective recognized that art could be revolutionary
and a powerful vital voice of the movement without requiring stylistic
22, 1970 in the newsletter of the Chicago Women's Liberation
Union, an article appeared entitled "Art Collective Forming"
by Estelle Carol, calling for a creation of the Women's Liberation
Art Collective. Its original goal was "to bring women who
want to share ideas, share skills, resources, and criticism
in visual and literary arts."
Arts Collective wanted to produce posters for groups in Chicago
working with the new left to advertise events/issues. Carol
felt that the quest for liberation was "Overlooking the
importance of beauty and creativity" and the responsibility
of an Arts Collective was to give women an opportunity to discover
their own potential in the shared experience of artistic creation.
The collective was not to be limited to only a few artists but
"to all our sisters." The principle was to form a
collective of art that required practical training but anyone
who wanted to contribute could join.
meaning and function of the Collective would will be up to
the members. So far the only project is to service all women's
liberation groups in Chicago who need posters to advertise
events and issues, or to raise funds for our ever- growing
programs. As a movement seeking to build a society that truly
fulfills the material and psychological needs of both women
and men, we must not overlook the beauty and creativity in
our present search for new life styles, a new schema must
be adopted. It is the responsibility of an Art Collective
to give women the opportunity to discover their own potential
and share the experience not only with fellow artists, but
with all our sisters.
the Collective had an ancillary function in relation to women's
liberation. It would "service" all the women's liberation
groups by creating posters that promote cultural events, but
not exist as a separate political organization.
January 15, 1971 the Graphics Collective issued a statement
artists in Chicago have gotten together, sparked by a growing
consciousness of the women's liberation movement, to form
a women's art collective. Using printmaking as a medium (silk-screening)
will allow wide distribution of large, original prints to
large numbers of people at low cost. The women in our group
feel there is a need for both high quality women s graphic
art and for women artists to identify and work within a collective.
A collective gives us the opportunity to support each other
in our art work. As well as to combine resources for a workshop
that has a greater variety of materials and equipment than
each woman alone maintain (ending the exclusivity of art).
Also belonging to a collective makes identification with the
larger women's movement more real. As women artists and revolutionaries,
we believe that a visual image communicates with people and
expresses the tone of a movement in a special way that cannot
be filled by words. Because people communicate through art
and because art is a part of being human, it is a necessary
part of the growing revolutionary counterculture. A large
part of energy, time, money has gone to putting together a
silk-screening workshop in the home of one of our members
We are interested in producing political and non-political
prints although right now we are working on posters with only
Collective assumed a greater responsibility within the movement
because they operated as an autonomous organization The art
produced was intended to promote cultural events and raise the
consciousness level of women not involved with organized women's
liberation groups. However, the posters became viable forms
of communication between women liberationist non-liberationists
and the artists. Belonging to a Collective made "identification"
with the larger women's movement more tangible for the artists
who did not want to contribute to the radical feminist organizations
focus on establishing a dogmatic rhetoric and theory. The women
did not separate their identities as artists and revolutionaries.
Their role was to communicate through visual images the goals
of the women's liberation movement. By organizing as an all-women's
collective, they were attacking the traditional view of art
as an exclusive domain of men.
formation of a Collective implied that working as artists autonomously
was a patriarchal notion and thus excluded women. Effectively
organizing as a collective liberates women artistically and
politically. In 1972 there was a shift from guerrilla actions
aimed at museums to protest the lack of women artists exhibited,
to the creation of organizations whose focus was on long-term
changes within existing institutions. From 1972 onward, organizations
such as the Women's Art Center in Los Angeles and the New York
Women's Caucus worked towards including women artists on a professional
level such as in women's organizations centers galleries conference
and publications. In aiming to combat the exclusion of
women artists in museums academies and galleries women created
alternative organizations. Organizations such as the Women's
Art Center became highly institutionalize as new standards and
criteria were created for women artists. A distinct of definition
feminist art emerged from these organizations.
example the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute
of the Arts directed by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro used
the term feminist art to refer to art that consciously focused
on the political, social, and/or personal art experiences of
women. Feminists deconstructed the myths of femininity and traditional
representation of women. However a feminist art incorporated
specific definitions of female imagery. A profusion of women's
sexual and erotic art and use of sexual imagery such as circles
domes, egg spheres, biomorphic shapes, identified a work as
an example of feminist art.
CWGC did not want to establish a formal definition of what constitutes
feminist art. Any requirement seemed to replicate those associated
with traditional male-art practices. Thus, any attempt to establish
a strict definition of female imagery was viewed as a contradiction
to the goals of the women's liberation movement. An institutionalization
seemed to only replicate the evil hierarchical structure associated
with traditional art. Collective organizations like the CWGC
would instead concentrate on consciousness raising through art
without excluding any women and their ideas.
the process of art making was emphasized and not the product
membership was not restricted to women with a fine-arts education.
Helene M's original idea was to create a collective of women
who considered art "the life's work" or "source
of identity" although the majority of women did not relate
to art in this sense. The CWGC Developed a theory similar to
the Women's Revolutionary Women's Revolutionary Co-op. The Co-op
believed that all women are artists born with natural creativity
but due to the socialization process their artistic qualities
are never developed or promoted qualities
Co-op did not believe that art should have "preordained"
or standards established by institutions such as those of critics
museums, and art history Such standards developed within a long
tradition of art practice and criticism, appear based on gendered
criteria and a fundamental presupposition that only men possessed
the faculty for creative ingenuity.
lack of representation of women in museums, the historical study
of only male artists, and the critics' support of artists created
by man deemed their art as "good art". The art created
by women did not have an aesthetic value. The Co-op wanted all
women to free themselves from these restrictions and cultivate
their expression by participating as artists in collective organizations.
CWGC to the CWGC the Co-op's art was not
The method of organizing was political in that it rejected the
notion that a successful artist is one who academically trained
in the fine
but the art produced did not incorporate broader social politics.
The CWGC wanted to integrate the idea that belonging to a Collective
encourages free expression but maintain a fulcrum of revolution
to activate a social change.
they were a "workgroup" of the CWLU, the Collective
Graphics operated as an autonomous organization One selected member
was required to attend the Union's monthly steering committee
meetings as a representative of the Collectives concerns, ideas,
and requests. The ideas of the CWLU'S central steering community
and its other "work groups" including the chapters of
Hyde Park, University of Chicago, Northwestern, and the West Side,
were then disseminated among the other Collective members. Discussion
about subjects such as structural policy, and membership did not
always parallel the specific politics of the CWLU.
the first few years of the CWGC, the volunteers used a makeshift
studio space located on W. Cermak Avenue, and used equipment donated
by community artists. After making posters specifically promoting
the CWLU, the collective earned enough money to rent a small space
in a building shared with the CWLU on Belmont Avenue. Only two
members, Estelle Carol and Tibby L., earned a paid salary for
the production of the posters.
structure and membership of the Collective was never permanent
but remained in a constant state of transition. The number of
members fluctuated between five to twenty-five women. Members
would work as committed artists, or volunteer on occasion. Non-members
would often help with the physical printing process, depending
on the number of posters the Collective needed to produce.
discussion and criticism are important in our growing sense of
how to make revolutionary women's art into the context of a small,
interpersonal group which we see as the fundamental primary organizational
structure of the women's movement.
CWGC implemented designated sessions or "poster thinks",
where slogans and designs were brainstormed upon. Individual ideas
were encouraged and then either supported or rejected. However,
only the woman who proposed an idea could also reject it. The
woman could not be coerced by other members of the Collective
to abandon her idea. Self- criticism was fundamental to the organization
of the collective. The CWGC incorporated a utopian ideal in that
each poster was not the responsibility of only one woman, and
the group could not prevent her from printing her poster.
fact that the Collective was a work group of the Chicago Women's
Liberation Union helped facilitate the finances and lift certain
"psychological burdens" The Union's central steering
committee united the communication among the other chapters in
Chicago. The three hundred and fifty dollars the Chicago Women's
Liberation Union donated for initial costs turned to profit as
the posters were sold in bookstores such as the Jane Addams and
Pride and Prejudice Bookstores in Chicago, and by catalogue mail
order. The CWLU disbanded in 1977, but the Collective survived
until 1983. This illustrates the strength and importance of the
organization as an effective and independent group created during
the women's liberation movement.
Chicago Women's Graphic Collective represented the CWLU's decision
to be an action-oriented structure and different from the other
radical feminist groups such as Bread and Roses of Boston and
the Redstockings of New York. In Peg Strobel's draft article,"
The Chicago Women's Liberation Union: A Case Study in Feminist
Politics", she notes that the CWGC served an ancillary function
to the CWLU. The posters the CWGC produced was only "cultural
work" and not intended to create a political agenda separate
from the CWLU. Strobel criticizes the CWGC and the Women's Liberation
Rock Band who played for fundraising and other events as being
"narrow in scope" and not effective political components
of the CWLU .
it could certainly be argued that the CWGC and the diverse images
they produced were politically effective. For example on February
11, 1973, in a feature article in the Chicago Tribune a photograph
depicts the outside walls of the Belmont El stop covered with
the CWGC posters. Although the article was the only media coverage
the CWGC received, the newspaper's photograph proves that the
posters did warrant public exposure.
posters communicated with women involved in the women's liberation
movement as active participants and women involved in the movement
in a support capacity. It is difficult to judge whether the posters
reached women not interested in women's liberation.
organizational structure of the CWGC was fundamental to its impetus
and force within the Women's Liberation Movement. The analysis
of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union and its structural philosophy
frames the Collective and its fluidity as an organization committed
to putting theory into practice through art.