10 Major Women Artists I Couldn't Live Without

I was preparing a post for my online craft class, Interwoven, when I realized there are so many women artists who have influenced my work. It was actually more difficult to edit the list of influences down to a manageable number than it was to create a list that was somewhat endless. I didn't edit the list to include only women--there were a few men in the Interwoven post--but I noticed that it was predominantly women.

Most of my creative influences have been other women artists, writers, designers, and crafters. There are so many major contemporary women artists who have created--or are still creating--absolutely groundbreaking, gorgeous, brilliant, and undeniably important art. I mean, I don't even have to say that right? Because it's (hopefully) so obvious to humans everywhere.

 (Kiki Smith, Sojourn)

But then I was at a wonderful gathering of women artists in San Francisco last night and we got into a discussion about male artists still dominating the major museums and galleries and how this dominance has (somewhat absurdly) even bled into the contemporary craft-based art world, particularly within fine arts institutions interested in craft.

The craft movement is undeniably, predominantly women. Not entirely, of course, but predominantly. And the craft movement has been dominated by women throughout history--quilting, embroidery, applique, sewing, stitching, weaving, and the list continues. These were "women's domestic arts" right? And that's what makes these techniques so interesting in a contemporary fine arts context... right?

(Louise Bourgeois, EUG√ČNIE GRANDET)

But somehow this women-dominated work is quick to elevate male artists using the same craft techniques. Maybe it becomes a gender juxtaposition to show a man alongside the "women's tools"? Maybe we want to think of these men as pro-feminist, or pro-women's traditional techniques, or pro-women? Maybe it's an attempt to show various artists from various backgrounds? Maybe, but sadly, if I'm really honest I think that's being generous.

(Ana Mendieta, Silueta)

Instead, I think it's more likely a way to "validate" the work as not "just women's work" but work that is also "important (because it includes important men)". Of course, this is ridiculous. And, of course, I'm not going to try to give a blanket statement here about feminism, art, craft, or the misrepresentation of women, or the lack of women being represented in major arts institutions, or which women are being represented and which women are not. But nonetheless, under-representation of women artists in arts institutions is still happening. Period. And until it stops happening we need to continue having these conversations. Yes, even in 2014.

(Eva Hesse, Right After)

I also thought about the film !Women Art Revolution where the director, Lynn Hershman Leeson, stands outside of the Whitney Museum and asks museum-goers to name three women artists. And sadly? They can't do it. An article about the movie says, "The revelatory and in some ways troubling film about the history of feminist art includes a telling montage near the beginning. Museumgoers outside the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York were recently asked to name three women artists. They struggle to get beyond Frida Kahlo".

(Yoko Ono, Whisper Piece)

As I prepare for my own solo exhibition I keep looking to my creative mentors for their guidance. I look for inspiration, complication, questions, persuasion, encouragement, and further dialogue. I look to them for guidance mostly when I get stuck in the questions. I also look for solutions or ways to keep moving forward.

So... I've decided to share images and links for 10 major women artists I couldn't live without. That's right, I couldn't live (or work) without. They are that important to me, and I dare say, many of them are important to numerous contemporary artists working today, though not everybody's list would ever be the same.

 (Kara Walker, My Complement...)

It seems somewhat crazy to me that I need to make this list--so much of my community is compromised of incredible, talented, committed, working women artists. But it also feels important that we keep having this conversation. That we keep sharing our influences, resources, and inspirations. And that we share these lists. And it also feels important that we discuss how women artists, crafters, designers, writers, performers, and other creatives have shaped our work. Influenced our lives. And been our mentors.

(Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present)

On the National Museum of Women in the Arts advocate page they begin with the Guerrilla Girls quote, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female". And just as we might be thinking, "But this is outdated information because women today have so many more options in the arts" then they give us the next fact: 51% of visual artists today are women but only 28% of museum solo exhibitions spotlighted women in eight selected museums throughout the 2000s.

(Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party)
So I felt compelled to make my own shortlist--10 major women artists who have been essential to my own work. I chose 10 "major" women artists because these women have been represented in major art museums, art institutions, prominent galleries, and national publications. Their work is vast, complicated, complex, and also important. These links will undoubtedly lead to other links that will allow for greater research, reading, images, inspiration, exhibitions, etc. They have each made a major contribution to contemporary art (some with more widespread recognition than others) and they have all impacted my work considerably.

(Margaret Kilgallen, Untitled)

Like any shortlist, my list is also problematic. It's imperfect. But it's my personal shortlist and it's a place to start. Of course, I could have made a list of 100 women artists (not all with major arts institution recognition but all influential) but that might be an entire book and not just one blog post. And that, of course, would be a valid effort that I just might tackle someday, but I also think that list could quickly become 1000. Yes, 1000 women artists who have been influential--the intersections and weaving could grow unwieldy and complex. Where do you ultimately draw the line, right?

  (Sheila Hicks, Procession Temuco)

So much more I could write about this topic, but here is the list of 10. (For the record--it was very, very hard to edit this list down to just 10 artists.) Each image (above) is one of my personal favorite works of that particular artist, but of course this is just a fraction of the volume of her work. Below I've listed each artist's name with two separate links--different links in the first and last names. All artwork shown above is from the artists' website, gallery, museum, etc and the images are from the artist, gallery, museum, or related articles, press, etc. The artists are listed in random order below.

5. Yoko Ono

6. Kara Walker 

And, as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Your additions. The women artists you've found the most influential ranging from Frida Kahlo to your own community of peers. May you get lost in their links--so much to see, read, hear, and absorb.



  1. Great post. Thank you. xo

    1. Thank you. It felt important to write this post. To document some of the women artists who have had a major impact on my own work. An homage of sorts...


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.