I've decided to write an artist manifesto. I briefly considered writing an artist memoir but decided they’re old news. Literally. A memoir chronicles the past. A manifesto is much more in the now. In an age where the branding of self is of ultimate import, a manifesto seems like a good way of differentiating oneself. It’s a statement about what you stand for and like all the cool hipsters these days, it’s important to have a cause. Since I’m an aspiring artist I’m going to need an inspiring artist manifesto.
An art manifesto is a formal declaration of the intentions, ideas or beliefs of an artist or a group of artists. Originally the art manifesto was not only an explanation of ideas or aesthetics in art, but also addressed broader political themes and the need for change. In this way, art was used as a political tool and a means to change the world. A manifesto has two main objectives: to identify and criticize an existing paradigm and to propose an alternative condition. Many art movements published manifestos during the 20th century, including the Cubists (1912), the Dadaists (1916) and the Surrealists (1924). It seems like anyone who is someone in the art work has published, or at least subscribed to, an artistic manifesto of some sort.
Before penning my very own manifesto, I’ve decided to do some investigative research. As you would expect, with the advent of the internet, there are now countless manifestos to be found, ranging in style, competence and subject matter. The modern art manifesto exists not as a political tool but more as a personal mission statement.
Some better known examples of art manifestos in the digital era include that of the Stuckists and artist Mark Miremont. Stuckism is a UK movement established 14 years ago, that reject conceptual art and advocate a return of figurative painting. Photographer and philosopher Mark Miremont calls for a rejection of “the sarcastic relativism of dada” and a resurrection of Beauty. Both statements have been written in response to a prevailing art trend. However, unlike the manifestos of old, these protestations do not align themselves with a political movement.
There is much to be admired in these aforementioned modern manifestos. Like these artists, I am also tired of the overabundance of conceptual art that often requires a two-page explanation (not unlike this manifesto, one may argue). Like Miremont, I believe that just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. Or just because it is, doesn’t mean it is good. My art manifesto, like those before it, will criticise the populist art forms of the past few decades and call for a return to the aesthetic of beauty and the figurative form. Additionally, my very own manifesto will be written in the context of a wider social movement; Feminism. I want my art, and therefore my manifesto, to inspire change and awareness of a political and social issue. This will require a much broader discussion beyond that of artistic form and the state of the current art world.
Much has been written about feminism, including a plethora of manifestos. As early as 1912 Valentine de Saint Point wrote the ‘The Manifesto of Futurist Women’ and Mina Loy wrote what is now known as ‘The Feminist Manifesto’ (it originally took the form of a personal letter rather than a public proclamation). Whilst these texts are more than 100 years’ old, many of the observations and calls to action are still revenant today, which goes to show that little has changed in the game of love and war between the sexes. My feministic art manifesto will likely herald many of the same observations and ideas that have been written before. I will happily add one more voice to the fore, doubtless of its unoriginality.
Of course my feministic-art manifesto is not complete without a reference to the feminist art movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Like my forbearers, I wish to challenge attitudes towards social and political gender norms and inspire change through my art. However, that may be where my similarities with the feminist art movement end.
By rejecting traditional art practices that have been the dominion of men, the feminist art movement sought to redefine not only the definition of art but also the art canon’s definition of beauty. Their enthusiasm for non-tradition art forms, such fabric, performance, video and installation, has continued to challenge the perception of art into the 21st century and has contributed to the rise of conceptual art. Whilst a more inclusive definition of art is a welcomed breath of fresh air, the acceptance of less traditional art forms as has resulted in the marginalization of existing art forms, such as figurative art. Further, tied in with the prevailing definition of beauty is the assumption that the viewer is male. It resulted in the rejection of what was traditionally considered beautiful in art and led to a feminist aesthetic that was often characterized as confronting and bold.
Rather than focus on the rejection of male art and ideals, my feministic artistic manifesto will be about the self-objectification of women. We do it to ourselves. We judge each other and criticise ourselves. Therefore we must first change our own attitudes. As contemporary feminist author Clementine Ford said “I’m not trying to change men’s minds, I’m trying to talk to women. I write for women and I think that’s a beautiful thing to be proud of.”
I decree that I will make art for the women and about the women: Art that is pretty, decorative and pastel coloured. My art will tackle gender issues, body issues, fashion, motherhood, girlhood, friendship and competing expectations. Above all, it will be beautiful and inspiring, just like my manifesto….and my Instagram page.
After conducting extensive research via Wikipedia, I now know what to include and who to emulate, in order to produce a magnificent art manifesto. All I have to do is sit down and write my very own manifesto and then make some art that supports it. Once done, I will post some happy snaps on Instagram and finally get around to writing that memoir I’ve been thinking about.
About the artist
Leah is a Melbourne artist who making figurative work about womanhood and girlhood. She loves all things patterned and often incorporates it into her art. Stay in touch by signing up to email updates here or follow her artist journey on social media @leahmarianiartspace.