Carolee Schneemann

Carolee Schneemann

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Carolee Schneemann is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality
Human sexuality
Human sexuality is the awareness of gender differences, and the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also be described as the way someone is sexually attracted to another person whether it is to opposite sexes , to the same sex , to either sexes , or not being...

 and gender
Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity...

. She received a B.A.
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 from Bard College
Bard College
Bard College, founded in 1860 as "St. Stephen's College", is a small four-year liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.-Location:...

 and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois. Her work is primarily characterized by research into visual traditions, taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

s, and the body of the individual in relationship to social bodies. Her works have been shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the New York Museum of Modern Art, and the London National Film Theatre. Schneemann has taught at several universities
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

, including the California Institute of the Arts
California Institute of the Arts
The California Institute of the Arts, commonly referred to as CalArts, is located in Valencia, in Los Angeles County, California. It was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and the...

, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hunter College
Hunter College
Hunter College, established in 1870, is a public university and one of the constituent colleges of the City University of New York, located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Hunter grants undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate degrees in more than one hundred fields of study, and is recognized...

, and Rutgers University
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

, where she was the first female art professor hired. Additionally, she has published widely, producing works such as Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter (1976) and More than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1997).

Schneemann's works have been associated with a variety of art classifications including Fluxus
Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning "to flow"—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. They have been active in Neo-Dada noise music and visual art as well as literature, urban planning,...

, Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada is a label applied primarily to audio and visual art that has similarities in method or intent to earlier Dada artwork. It is the foundation of Fluxus, Pop Art and Nouveau réalisme. Neo-Dada is exemplified by its use of modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrast...

, the Beat Generation
Beat generation
The Beat Generation refers to a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired...

, and happenings.


As a child, her friends described her as "a mad pantheist," due to her relationship and respect for nature. Schneemann cites her earliest connections between art and sexuality to her drawings from ages four and five, which she drew on her father's prescription
Prescription drug
A prescription medication is a licensed medicine that is regulated by legislation to require a medical prescription before it can be obtained. The term is used to distinguish it from over-the-counter drugs which can be obtained without a prescription...

 tablets. Schneemann's family was generally supportive of her naturalness and freeness with her body. Schneemann herself has attributed her father's support to the fact that he was a rural physician who had to often deal with the body in various states of health.

Schneemann was awarded a full scholarship to New York's Bard College
Bard College
Bard College, founded in 1860 as "St. Stephen's College", is a small four-year liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.-Location:...

. She was the first woman from her family to attend college, but her father discouraged her from an art education. While at Bard, Schneemann began to realize the differences between male and female perceptions of each other's bodies while serving as a nude model for her boyfriend's portraits and while painting nude self-portrait
A self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist. Although self-portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid 15th century that artists can be frequently identified depicting...

s. While on leave from Bard and on a separate scholarship to Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, she met musician James Tenney
James Tenney
James Tenney was an American composer and influential music theorist.-Biography:Tenney was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College and the University of Illinois...

, who was attending The Juilliard School. Her first experience with experimental film
Experimental film
Experimental film or experimental cinema is a type of cinema. Experimental film is an artistic practice relieving both of visual arts and cinema. Its origins can be found in European avant-garde movements of the twenties. Experimental cinema has built its history through the texts of theoreticians...

 was through Stan Brakhage
Stan Brakhage
James Stanley Brakhage , better known as Stan Brakhage, was an American non-narrative filmmaker who is considered to be one of the most important figures in 20th century experimental film....

, her and Tenney's friend. After graduating from Bard, Schneemann attended the University of Illinois for her graduate degree
Graduate school
A graduate school is a school that awards advanced academic degrees with the general requirement that students must have earned a previous undergraduate degree...


Early work

Carolee Schneemann began her art career as a painter
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 in the late 1950s. Her painting work began to adopt some of the characteristics of Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada is a label applied primarily to audio and visual art that has similarities in method or intent to earlier Dada artwork. It is the foundation of Fluxus, Pop Art and Nouveau réalisme. Neo-Dada is exemplified by its use of modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrast...

 art, as she used box structures coupled with expressionist brushwork. These constructs share the heavily textural characteristics found in the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is well-known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations...

. Schneemann described the atmosphere in the art community at this time as misogynistic and that female artists of the time were not aware of their bodies. These works integrated influence by artists such as Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th...

 and the issues in painting brought up by the abstract expressionists. Schneemann chose to focus on expressiveness in her art rather than accessibility or stylishness. She still described herself as a formalist however, unlike other feminist artists who wanted to distance themselves from male-oriented art history. Schneemann became involved with the art movement of happenings when she organized A Journey through a Disrupted Landscape, inviting people to "crawl, climb, negotiate rocks, climb, walk, go through mud". Soon thereafter she met Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow was an American painter, assemblagist and a pioneer in establishing the concepts of performance art. He helped to develop the "Environment" and "Happening" in the late 1950s and 1960s, as well as their theory. His Happenings - some 200 of them - evolved over the years...

, the primary figure of happenings in addition to artists Red Grooms
Red Grooms
Red Grooms is an American multimedia artist best known for his colorful pop-art constructions depicting frenetic scenes of modern urban life...

 and Jim Dine
Jim Dine
Jim Dine is an American pop artist. He is sometimes considered to be a part of the Neo-Dada movement. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, attended Walnut Hills High School, the University of Cincinnati, and received a BFA from Ohio University in 1957. He first earned respect in the art world with...

. Influenced by figures such as Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, often shortened to Simone de Beauvoir , was a French existentialist philosopher, public intellectual, and social theorist. She wrote novels, essays, biographies, an autobiography in several volumes, and monographs on philosophy, politics, and...

, Antonin Artaud
Antonin Artaud
Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, more well-known as Antonin Artaud was a French playwright, poet, actor and theatre director...

, Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, known as one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry...

, and Kaprow, Schneemann found herself drawn away from painting.

In 1962, Schneemann moved with James Tenney from their residence in Illinois to New York when Tenney obtained a job with Bell Laboratories as an experimental composer. Through one of Tenney's colleagues at Bell, Billy Klüver
Billy Klüver
Billy Klüver Johan Wilhelm Klüver was an electrical engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories who founded Experiments in Art and Technology. Klüver lectured extensively on art and technology and social issues to be addressed by the technical community. He published numerous articles on these subjects...

, Schneemann was able to meet figures such as Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg is a Swedish sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring very large replicas of everyday objects...

, Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham
Mercier "Merce" Philip Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of the American avant-garde for more than 50 years. Throughout much of his life, Cunningham was considered one of the greatest creative forces in American dance...

, John Cage
John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde...

, and Robert Rauschenberg which got her involved with the Judson Memorial Church
Judson Memorial Church
The Judson Memorial Church is located on Washington Square South between Thompson and Sullivan Streets, opposite Washington Square Park, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of the Manhattan borough of New York City...

's art program. There, she participated in works such as Oldenburg's Store Days (1962) and Robert Morris
Robert Morris (artist)
Robert Morris is an American sculptor, conceptual artist and writer. He is regarded as one of the most prominent theorists of Minimalism along with Donald Judd but he has also made important contributions to the development of performance art, land art, the Process Art movement and installation...

's Site (1964) where she played a living version of Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

's Olympia
Olympia (painting)
Olympia is an oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet. Painted in 1863, it measures 130.5 by 190 centimetres . The nation of France acquired the painting in 1890 with a public subscription organized by Claude Monet...

. She began to use her nude body in works, feeling that it needed to be seized back from the status of a cultural possession. Schneemann got to personally know many New York musicians and composers in the 1960s as well, including George Brecht
George Brecht
George Brecht , born George Ellis MacDiarmid, was an American conceptual artist and avant-garde composer as well as a professional chemist who worked as a consultant for companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Mobil Oil...

, Malcolm Goldstein
Malcolm Goldstein
Malcolm Goldstein is a composer, violinist and improviser who has been active in the presentation of new music and dance since the early 1960s. He received an M.A. in music composition from Columbia University in 1960, having studied with Otto Luening...

, Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass is an American composer. He is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public .His music is often described as minimalist, along with...

, Terry Riley
Terry Riley
Terrence Mitchell Riley, is an American composer intrinsically associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music and was a pioneer of the movement...

, and Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...

. She was also highly interested in the abstract expressionists of the time, such as Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands....

. However, despite her numerous connections in the art world, Schneeman's painting-constructions did not generate interest from New York art dealers, though Oldenburg suggested that there would have been more interest from Europe. The first support for Schneemann's work came from poets such as Robert Kelly
Robert Kelly (poet)
Robert Kelly is an American poet associated with the deep image group.-Early life and education:Kelly was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Samuel Jason and Margaret Rose Kelly née Kane, in 1935. He did his undergraduate studies at the City College of the City University of New York, graduating in 1955...

, David Antin
David Antin
David Antin is a United States poet and critic. In the late 1960s, Antin began performing extemporaneously, improvising "talk poems" at readings and exhibitions...

, and Paul Blackburn
Paul Blackburn (U.S. poet)
Paul Blackburn was an American poet. He influenced contemporary literature through his poetry, translations and the encouragement and support he offered to fellow poets.-Biography:...

 who published some of her writings.

Production on Schneemann's work Eye Body began in 1963. Schneemann created a "loft environment" filled with broken mirrors, motorized umbrellas, and rhythmic color units. To become a piece of the art herself, Schneemann covered herself in various materials including grease, chalk, and plastic. She created 36 "transformative-actions" - photographs by Icelandic artist Erró
Erró is a postmodern artist. He studied art in Norway and in Italy, and has resided in Paris, Thailand and on the island of Formentera for most of his life...

 of herself in her constructed environment. Included in these images is a frontal nude featuring two garden snakes crawling on Schneemann's torso. This image drew particular attention both for its "archaic eroticism" and her visible clitoris
The clitoris is a sexual organ that is present only in female mammals. In humans, the visible button-like portion is located near the anterior junction of the labia minora, above the opening of the urethra and vagina. Unlike the penis, which is homologous to the clitoris, the clitoris does not...

. Schneemann claims that she did not know at the time of the symbolism of the serpent in ancient cultures in figures such as the Minoan Snake Goddess and, in fact, learned of it years later. Upon its presentation to the public in 1963, art critics found the piece to be lewd and pornographic. Artist Valie Export
Valie Export
Valie Export is an Austrian artist...

 notes Eye Body for the way in which Schneemann portrays "how random fragments of her memory and personal elements of her environment are superimposed on her perception."

Meat and film

The 1964 piece Meat Joy revolved around eight partially nude figures dancing and playing with various objects and substances including wet paint, sausage, raw fish, scraps of paper, and raw chickens. It was first performed in Paris and was later filmed and photographed as performed by her Kinetic Theater group at Judson Memorial Church. She described the piece as an "erotic rite" and an indulgent Dionysian "celebration of flesh as material." Meat Joy is similar to the art form happenings in that they both use improvisation and focused on conception, rather than execution. Though her work of the 1960s was more performance-based, she continued to build assemblages such as the Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell was an American artist and sculptor, one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage...

-influenced Native Beauties (1962–64), Music Box Music (1964), and Pharaoh's Daughter (1966). Her Letter to Lou Andreas Salome (1965) expressed Schneemann's philosophical interests by combining scrawlings of Nietzsche and Tolstoy
Tolstoy, or Tolstoi is a prominent family of Russian nobility, descending from Andrey Kharitonovich Tolstoy who served under Vasily II of Moscow...

 with a Rauschenberg-like form.

In 1964, Schneemann began production of her film Fuses, eventually finishing it in 1967. Fuses portrayed Schneemann and her then-boyfriend James Tenney
James Tenney
James Tenney was an American composer and influential music theorist.-Biography:Tenney was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College and the University of Illinois...

 having sex as recorded by a 16 mm Bolex
Bolex is a Swiss company that manufactures motion picture cameras and lenses, the most notable products of which are in the 16 mm and Super 16 mm formats. The Bolex company was initially founded by Jacques Bogopolsky in 1927. Bolex is derived from his name. He had previously designed cameras for...

 camera. Schneemann then altered the film by staining, burning, and directly drawing on the celluloid itself, mixing the concepts of painting and collage. The segments were edited together at varying speeds and superimposed with photographs of nature, which she juxtaposed against her and Tenney's bodies and sexual actions. Fuses was motivated by Schneemann's desire to know if a woman's depiction of her own sexual acts was different from pornography and classical art as well as a reaction to Stan Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving
Window Water Baby Moving
Window Water Baby Moving is an experimental short film by Stan Brakhage, filmed in November 1958 and released in 1959. The film documents the birth of the director's first child, Myrrena.-Production:...

. She showed the film to her contemporaries as she worked on it in 1965 and 1966, receiving mostly positive feedback from her peers. Many critics though described it as "narcissistic exhibitionism" and described it as self-indulgent. She received an especially strong reaction regarding the cunnilingus
Cunnilingus is an oral sex act performed on a female. It involves the use by a sex partner of the mouth, lips and tongue to stimulate the female's clitoris, vulva, or vagina...

 scene of the film. While Fuses is viewed as a "proto-feminist" film, Schneemann feels that it was largely neglected by feminist film historians. The film lacked the fetishism and objectification of the female body as seen in much male-oriented pornography. Two years after its completion, it won a Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes International Film Festival , is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres including documentaries from around the world. Founded in 1946, it is among the world's most prestigious and publicized film festivals...

 Special Jury Selection prize. Pop artist Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andrew Warhola , known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art...

, with whom Schneemann was acquainted, having spent time at The Factory
The Factory
The Factory was Andy Warhol's original New York City studio from 1962 to 1968, although his later studios were known as The Factory as well. The Factory was located on the fifth floor at 231 East 47th Street, in Midtown Manhattan. The rent was "only about one hundred dollars a year"...

, drolly remarked that Schneemann should have taken the film to Hollywood. Fuses became the first in Carolee Schneemann's Autobiographical Trilogy. Though her works of the 1960s such as this shared many of the same ideas with the concurrent Fluxus
Fluxus—a name taken from a Latin word meaning "to flow"—is an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s. They have been active in Neo-Dada noise music and visual art as well as literature, urban planning,...

 artists, she remained independent of any specific movement. They did, however, form the groundwork for the feminist art movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Schneemann points out that the sexuality of the film overrides its formal and structural aspects to many viewers.

Schneemann began work on the next film, Plumb Line, in her Autobiographical Trilogy in 1968. The film opens with a still shot of a man's face with a plumb line in front of it before the entire image begins to burn. Various images including Schneemann and the man appear in different quadrants of the frame while a discombobulating soundtrack consisting of music, sirens, and cat noises among other things play in the background. The sound and visuals grow more intense as the film progresses, with Schneemann narrating about a period of physical and emotional illness. The film ends with Schneemann attacking a series of projected images and a repetition of the opening segment of the film. During a showing of Plumb Line at a women's film festival, the film was booed for the image of the man at the beginning of the film.

In 1975, Schneemann performed Interior Scroll, a Fluxus-influenced piece featuring her use of text and body. In her performance, Schneemann entered wrapped in a sheet, under which she wore an apron. She disrobed and then got on a table where she outlined her body with dark paint. Several times, she would take "action poses", similar to those in figure drawing classes. Concurrently, she read from her book Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter. Following this, she dropped the book and slowly extracted from her vagina
The vagina is a fibromuscular tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in female placental mammals and marsupials, or to the cloaca in female birds, monotremes, and some reptiles. Female insects and other invertebrates also have a vagina, which is the terminal part of the...

 a scroll from which she read. Schneemann's feminist scroll speech, according to performance theorist Jeanie Forte, made it seem as if "[Schneemann]'s vagina itself is reporting [...] sexism". Art critic Robert C. Morgan
Robert C. Morgan
Robert C. Morgan is an American art critic, art historian, curator, poet, and visual artist.-Background:Robert C. Morgan received his M.F.A. in Sculpture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1975 and his Ph.D. in contemporary art history from New York University in 1978...

 states that it is necessary to acknowledge the period during which Interior Scroll was produced in order to understand it. He argues that by placing the source of artistic creativity at the female genitals, Schneemann is changing the masculine overtones of minimalist art and conceptual art
Conceptual art
Conceptual art is art in which the concept or idea involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Many of the works, sometimes called installations, of the artist Sol LeWitt may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions...

 into a feminist exploration of her body. Interior Scroll, along with Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago is a feminist artist, author, and educator.Chicago has been creating artwork since the mid 1960s. Her earliest forays into the art world coincided with the rise of Minimalism, which she eventually abandoned in favor of art she believed to have greater content and relevance...

's Dinner Party, helped pioneer many of the ideas later popularized by the off-broadway
Off-Broadway theater is a term for a professional venue in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499, and for a specific production of a play, musical or revue that appears in such a venue, and which adheres to related trade union and other contracts...

 show The Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler which ran at the Off Broadway Westside Theatre after a limited run at AFRICA in 1996. Ensler originally starred in the production which was produced by David Stone, Nina Essman, Dan Markley, The Araca Group, Willa Shalit, Mike Skipper...


In 1978, Schneemann finished the last film, Kitch's Last Meal, in what was later called her "Autobiographical Trilogy".

1980s and beyond

In the 1980s, Schneemann says that her work was sometimes considered by various feminist groups to be an insufficient response to many feminist issues of the time.

Schneemann's 1994 piece Mortal Coils commemorated fifteen friends and colleagues who had died over the period of two years including Hannah Wilke
Hannah Wilke
Hannah Wilke was an American painter, sculptor, photographer, video artist and performance artist.-Biography:...

, John Cage
John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde...

, and Charlotte Moorman
Charlotte Moorman
Madeline Charlotte Moorman Garside was an American cellist and performance artist.She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. She studied cello from age ten and won a scholarship to Centenary College where she took her B.A. in music in 1955. She received her M.A...

. The piece consisted of rotating mechanisms from which hung coiled ropes while slides of the commemorated artists were shown on the walls.

In December 2001, she unveiled Terminal Velocity, which consisted of a group of photographs of people falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center
World Trade Center
The original World Trade Center was a complex with seven buildings featuring landmark twin towers in Lower Manhattan, New York City, United States. The complex opened on April 4, 1973, and was destroyed in 2001 during the September 11 attacks. The site is currently being rebuilt with five new...

 following the September 11, 2001 attacks
September 11, 2001 attacks
The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks The September 11 attacks (also referred to as September 11, September 11th or 9/119/11 is pronounced "nine eleven". The slash is not part of the pronunciation...

. Along with another of Schneemann's works which used the same images, Dark Pond, Schneemann sought to "personalize" the victims of the attack. To achieve this, she digitally enhanced and enlarged the figures in the images, isolating the figures from the surroundings.

Schneemann continues to produce art, including the 2007 installation Devour, which featured videos of recent wars contrasted with everyday images of United States daily life on dual screens.


One of Schneemann's primary focuses in her work is the separation between eroticism and the politics of gender. Her cat Kitch, which was featured in works such as Fuses (1967) and Kitch's Last Meal (1978), was a major figure in Schneemann's work for almost twenty years. She used Kitch as an "objective" observer to her and Tenney's sexual activities, as she stated that she was unaffected by human mores
Mores, in sociology, are any given society's particular norms, virtues, or values. The word mores is a plurale tantum term borrowed from Latin, which has been used in the English language since the 1890s....

. One of her later cats, Vesper, was featured in the photographic series Infinity Kisses (1986). In a wall-size collection of 140 photos, Schneemann documents herself kissing Vesper and documents "the artist at life".

She lists as an aesthetic influence on herself and James Tenney
James Tenney
James Tenney was an American composer and influential music theorist.-Biography:Tenney was born in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College and the University of Illinois...

 the poet Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

, especially to the collage Maximus at Gloucester but also in general, "in relationship to his concern for deep imagery, sustained metaphor, and also that he had been researching Tenney’s ancestors", despite his occasional sexist comments.


Schneemann considers her photographic and body pieces to still be based in painting despite appearing otherwise on the surface. She has described herself as "A painter who has left the canvas to activate actual space and lived time." She cites her studies with painter Paul Brach
Paul Brach
Paul Brach, Born March 13, 1924 in New York City and he died November 16, 2007 in Easthampton, New York. Paul Brach was primarily known as an American abstract painter and as a lecturer and educator....

 as teaching her to "understand the stroke as an event in time" and to think of her performers as "colors in three dimensions." Schneemann took the ideas found in her figurative abstract paintings of the 1950s, where she cut and destroyed layers of paint from their surfaces, and transferred them to her photographic work Eye Body. Art history professor Kristine Stiles
Kristine Stiles
Kristine Stilesis an art historian specializing in global contemporary art. She has written extensively on performance art as well as on the themes of destruction, violence, and trauma in art. Stiles earned a B.A. in Art History from San Jose State University in California, and an M.A. and Ph.D...

 asserts that Schneemann's entire oeuvre is devoted to exploring the concepts of figure-ground, relationality (both through use of her body), and similitude (through the use of cats and trees). Stiles asserts that the issues of sex and politics in Schneemann's work merely dictate how the art is shaped, rather than the formal concepts found behind it. For example, Schneemann relates the colors and movement featured in Fuses to brush strokes in painting. Her 1976 piece Up to and Including Her Limits, too, invoked the gestural brush strokes of the abstract expressionists with Scheemann swinging from ropes and scribbling with crayons onto a variety of surfaces.

Feminism and body

Schneemann acknowledges that she is often labeled as a feminist icon and that she is an influential figure to female artists, but she also notes that she reaches out to male artists as well. Though she is noted for being a feminist figure, her works explore issues in art and rely heavily on her broad knowledge of art history. Though works such as Eye Body were meant to explore the processes of painting and assemblage
Assemblage (art)
Assemblage is an artistic process. In the visual arts, it consists of making three-dimensional or two-dimensional artistic compositions by putting together found objects...

, rather than to address feminist topics, they still possess a strong female presence.

Unlike much other feminist art, Schneemann's revolves around sexual expression and liberation, rather than referring to victimization or repression of women. According to artist and lecturer Johannes Birringer
Johannes Birringer
Johannes Birringer is an independent media choreographer and artistic director of AlienNation Co., a multimedia ensemble that has collaborated on various site-specific and cross-cultural performance and installation projects since 1993...

, Schneemann's work resists the political correctness
Political correctness
Political correctness is a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts,...

 enforced by some branches of feminism as well as ideologies which feminists claim are misogynist, such as psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

. He also asserts that Schneemann's work is difficult to classify and analyze as it combines constructivist and painterly concepts with her physical body and energy. In her 1976 book Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter, Schneemann wrote that she used nudity in her artwork to break taboos associated with the kinetic human body and to show that "the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit." She also stated, "In some sense I made a gift of my body to other women; giving our bodies back to ourselves." She preferred her term "art istorical" (without the h), so as to reject the "his" in history.

Influence and legacy

As much of Schneemann's work is performance-based, photographs, video documentation, sketches, and artist's notes are often used to examine her work.

It was not until the 1990s when Schneemann's work began to become recognized as important works of feminist art. The first prominent exhibition of her work was the 1996 retrospective Up To and Including Her Limits, named for her 1973 work of the same title. It was held at New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

's New Museum of Contemporary Art
New Museum of Contemporary Art
The New Museum, founded in 1977 by Marcia Tucker, is the only museum in New York City exclusively devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world...

 and was organized by senior curator Dan Cameron. Previously, these works were dismissed as narcissism
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait...

 or otherwise overly sexualized forms of expression.

Critic Jan Avgikos wrote in 1997, "Prior to Schneemann, the female body in art was mute and functioned almost exclusively as a mirror of masculine desire." Critics have also noted that the reaction to Schneemann's work has changed since its original performance. Nancy Princenthal notes that modern viewers of Meat Joy are still squeamish about it; however, now the reaction is also due to the biting of raw chicken or the men hauling women over their shoulders.

List of selected works

  • 1963: Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions
  • 1964: Meat Joy
  • 1965: Viet Flakes
  • Autobiographical Trilogy
    • 1964-67: Fuses
    • 1968-71: Plumb Line
    • 1973-78: Kitch's Last Meal
  • 1973-76: Up to and Including Her Limits
  • 1975: Interior Scroll
  • 1981: Fresh Blood: A Dream Morphology
  • 1981-88: Infinity Kisses
  • 1986: Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta
  • 1986-88: Venus Vectors
  • 1987-88: Vesper's Pool
  • 1990: Cycladic Imprints
  • 1991: Ask the Goddess
  • 1994: Mortal Coils
  • 1995: Vulva's Morphia
  • 2001: More Wrong Things
  • 2001: Terminal Velocity
  • 2007: Devour

Selected bibliography

  • Cézanne, She Was A Great Painter (1976)
  • More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings (1979, 1997)
  • Early and Recent Work (1983)
  • Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (2001)


  • "The art audience is very receptive to what I do. It's a mutual influence."
  • "I take the position that I do not ask anyone else to do what I myself would not do and using myself as subject . . . as material (I) want to displace the power and separation of the artist from what's made. In the masculine tradition the director, the producer is always outside of the work because he's above it."

External links