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Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: Our first video on fierce women artists didn't even begin to cover the volume of interesting and boundary-pushing work made by women, so we had to make another. This week we talk about the incredible Artemisia Gentileschi, Mona Hatoum, Frida Kahlo, Hannah Höch, and Yayoi Kusama.

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Sarah: A few weeks ago, I made a video listing five fierce women of art and it didn't even begin to cover the tremendous volume of interesting and boundary pushing work made by women. And many of you shared with us the fierce artist you admire.

So let's do it again, but let's be clear about my motivations here. I too am suspicious any time an artist's sex is brought up. Like when I see a museum or gallery bragging about having up only women artists, I'm like, "Whoopee! Do you want a ribbon? Do you boast when you have up a group show of all men?" We all have different approaches to our feminism, and you can surely find fault with mine, but I encourage you to read Linda Nochlin's 1971 essay, "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?" where she says, "The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education-- understood to include everything that happens to us from the moment we enter this world of meaningful symbols, signs, and signals."

And at this moment, YouTube is a new institution, a new place where education happens and where history is written. And wouldn't it be cool if in this new platform, there were an equal number of videos about women who make art as men, or more? And not because they are women, but because they make great art. So here are five more artists who've made incredible work and who happen to be women.


Artemisia Gentileschi is one of very few women artists from the 17th century that we know anything about. Her father, Orazio, was a famous painter and that's the only reason she was able to learn how to paint, as women generally weren't allowed to apprentice or enter the Academy. But she was a masterful painter from a very young age, taking on ambitious large-scale figure painting of religious and historic subject matter.

Gentileschi was a follower of Caravaggio, the most prominent of Italian Baroque painters, and she similarly depicted dramatic lifelike scenes, defined by their rich colors and high contrast between light and dark. Unlike male artists of the day, she was permitted to work with female nude models and she depicted many powerful women in her work, including Susanna and the Elders, Judith Slaying Holofernes, Danae, Venus, Lucretia, Mary Magdalene, and herself. At 15, her father felt he could teach her no more and brought in Agostino Tassi as her private tutor. He raped her and then so generously offered to marry her, but she refused and he was already married anyway. A bitter court battle ensued that involved Gentileschi being tortured while defending her testimony. And Tassi was ultimately convicted.

Many see her painting of the courageous heroine Judith, saving her people by slaying the brutish general Holofernes, as her revenge for the rape. Soon after, she married another man and moved to Florence, where she had a successful career and was the first woman admitted to Florence's' Accademia del Disegno. While her work was long neglected and frequently misattributed to male artists, Gentileschi has emerged victorious from the misogynistic past and is now finally heralded for her intense and masterful paintings, retelling canonical stories from the rare perspective of the woman, and managing to tell her own story, despite centuries of distance and discrimination.


Mona Hatoum first gained attention in the early 1980s for her performance and video works that involved her own body. In 1982, she contained herself in a transparent box, covered herself in clay, and smeared the walls with it, to the sounds of news reporting and revolutionary songs. For another, in 1985, Hatoum walked barefoot through the street in London with a pair of Doc Martens laced around her ankles and dragging behind her.

But by the late '80s, she's subsumed the energy of these performances into objects, with work such as "The Light at the End," six heating rods installed vertically like prison bars. Approaching the piece, you feel the increasing heat of the rods and know immediately that this is no Dan Flavin. For "Light Sentence," she made a u-shaped enclosure of mesh lockers with a bare light bulb inside, moving up and down to cast dramatic and disorienting shadows. The pieces allude to confinement, imprisonment, and the threat of violence, but remain open to interpretation.

And Hatoum's works are almost always interpreted through her biography. She was born in Beirut in 1952 to a Palestinian family, who had fled after the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war. Hatoum traveled to Britain in the 1970s and the civil war back home in Lebanon prevented her from returning, so there she stayed. Ideas of home and homeland linger in many of her works, presenting objects and situations that reference everyday domestic items that are usually harmless, but under her treatment, are unstable and threatening.

Hatoum is often asked what in her work comes from her own culture and she said, "As if I have a recipe and can actually isolate the Arab ingredient, the woman ingredient, the Palestinian ingredient. People often expect tidy definitions of otherness, as if identity is something fixed and easily definable." And of course her work does address the instability of identity, but it goes much further than that. Hatoum's installations are both beautiful and disturbing, seductive and dangerous. One is never safe around her work. Violence is imminent, even in the most domestic of settings. Her work has the uncanny ability to impart the precariousness of each of our situations, whether we are surrounded by war, threatened by war, or believe ourselves to be impervious to it.


We all love Frida Kahlo, but it's important to remember why we do. She had a tumultuous life, filled with accident and intrigue and pain and suffering. And it's impossible to talk about our work without talking about her life because the two are very much intertwined. About a third of her entire body of work is self portrait.

Although Kahlo was born outside of Mexico City in 1907, she claimed her birth year to be 1910, the same year the Mexican Revolution began. She contracted polio as a child and didn't learn to paint until the age of 18, while recovering from a debilitating bus accident, making self portraits and still lives, influenced by the colors and forms of Mexican folk art. In 1929, she married muralist Diego Rivera, whom she called my child, my lover, my universe. They shared a love of art and politics and they traveled the world making art, meeting amazing people, and fighting a lot, because Rivera was a serial cheater.

Kahlo achieved some renown during her lifetime, but her work only really gained traction in the 1970s, when the feminist movement began to unearth and celebrate remarkable work like Kahlo's. Through her works, you see Kahlo addressing her many hardships-- displacement from home, losing her mother, miscarriage, and divorce. Her images reflect upon her own life, but also universal issues, of course-- pain, heartbreak, revolution. The worlds she constructed seem surrealist to some, but she insisted, "I never painted dreams. I paint my own reality." And it's that reality that remains so strong, it feels almost electric, as she gazes out at us from her pictures, testifying to her suffering and to our own.


Hannah Hoch Was a master of collage, synthesizing the fractured state of post World War I Germany into ingenious montages of disparate images pulled from magazines, journals, and newspapers. She also made what she calls Dada Dolls, a kind of sculptural montage that also reflected on the fractured state of individuals at the time, physically and psychologically mutilated from the war.

Hoch was the only female member of the Berlin Dada group, which included, among others, George Grosz and Raoul Hausmann. But despite their progressive politics, the members didn't really treat her as an equal, even though she was deeply involved and participated in the first international Dada Fair of 1920. It was in that show that she presented her masterpiece, "Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-belly Cultural Epoch of Germany." Hoch was critical of the Weimar government and the political chaos at the time and she used the medium of collage to express it.

She also challenged the standards of beauty of the, quote, "new woman" promoted in postwar media culture and questioned the oppressive ideals of homogeneity set forth by the National Socialist Party. Hoch bravely embraced difference at a time when it was increasingly dangerous to do so. Her heart was branded degenerate by the Nazis, but Hoch remained in Germany during the Second World War, although wasn't allowed to exhibit. A pioneering feminist, Hoch continued to make innovative and astute work until her death in 1978, using humor and startling beauty to define alternative views of self during a time of enormous social change.


You may not know you know Yayoi Kusama's work, but you do. You may have waited in line or seen people waiting in line to experience one of her miraculous infinity rooms or noticed one of her bright patterns on a passing handbag, or done a double take at her vibrant, distinctive look. But Kusama, at age 87, is one of the world's best known living artists and has had a remarkable career.

She was born in Japan and moved to New York in 1958, first creating paintings she called infinity nets, large scale canvases covered completely in small painted loops. This obsessive accumulation of gestures extended into objects, phallic soft sculptures, as well as walk-in sensorial environments. In 1966, she created "Narcissus Garden" for the Venice Biennale, a kinetic carpet of hundreds of mirrored spheres, which she sold for $2 each until the organizers shut her down.

Back in New York, she began staging happenings and events, painting participants with polka dots and choreographing orgiastic performances. She published a sexual freedom newspaper, opened naked painting studios, and made an experimental film called "Kusama's Self Obliteration." It's an apt term for her practice. She calls her work art medicine, which applies to both herself and her audience, asking us to quote, "Forget yourself. Become one with eternity. Become part of your environment."

She burnt out in the '70s and returned home to Japan, where she admitted herself to a mental hospital and continued to make art and write novels. She eventually built a studio near the hospital and still works there every day, creating a wide range of works all within her own language of optically vibrating accumulated marks. She once said, "I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned." And what's remarkable about Kusama is not just her work, but the persistence and singularity of that vision. She and her work are immediately recognizable, and that her brand can resound so clearly through the din of contemporary visual culture is an astounding feat.

Making another list of fierce women of art has made me think about why I'm using the adjective fierce to describe them. When you look back upon the history of art, the women whose work is able to stand out and persevere despite centuries of discrimination had had to be fierce. And in truth, they still do. So stay fierce and thanks for watching.