In The Time of The “Butterfly Imagery”

Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party  is a very interesting piece that I recommend to everyone, feminist or not.  The Dinner Party comprises of 39 plate settings, with detailed embroidered runners, each representing an important women from history.  Each individual plate encompasses a motif of the women and her accomplishments.  The table is set up in a triangle as a way to show there is no “head of the table” as there is in traditional dinner parties.  Furthermore, it is noted that the Dinner Party is somewhat of a play on The Last Supper because there are thirteen plate settings on each side of the triangle.  Although the Dinner Party was created nearly 40 years ago, it still generates many questions on art, feminism, and the role of women in society.

From an artists viewpoint the plates are visually stunning.  The attention to detail is remarkable, and there is no doubt to the extend of work Judy Chicago and her team put into this piece.  The film Right Out of History: The Making of Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party shows just how much planning and effort was put into the plates, design, runners, and tiles.  As  a matter of fact, what I liked most about viewing this piece was simply the cosmetics of each plate.  The history behind each plate was also interesting, but I mainly enjoyed just viewing the artistic style that each plate had.  One of my favorite plates that represented Emily Dickinson is a great example of how visually detailed and significant the Dinner Party is.  Aside from looking at the conceptional aspects of the piece, I feel that  Judy Chiago and her team assembled a visual masterpiece.

Each plate, with the exception of one (maybe depends how you see it) had some variation of vaginal “butterfly/ cunt” imagery which makes this piece so controversal.  The general vaginal theme of each plate stirred up a lot of debate regarding the piece and where it should be shown because of its “inappropriateness”.  When the dinner party was first published many museums would not allow it to be shown.  However, man’s art throughout history that depicts naked women is shown everywhere with no problems.  What makes this piece so different? Is it really because of the subjective vaginal imagery or is it because it was created by a team of feminists? Hilton Kramer argued that the piece served more as an advertising campaign than to a work of art”.  Chicago’s meaning behind her work was to ultimately to reiterate the contributions of great women throughout history that are being erased.

Why Vaginas?

There are so many ways to answer this two word question.  When first studying this piece in class, I immediately was thrown off because of the use of vaginal imagery.  It was something I had never seen on  literary a massive scale.  I was initially shocked at the use of the woman’s reproductive organ.  What changed my mind was really what my teacher told me.  Throughout history  male artists have painted, drawled, and sculpted naked women.  These women  almost always had there legs closed and the artist tends to focus on the female’s breast.  Why was Hilton Kramer so offended by this art work?  My own experience learning about this piece has made me feel as if the use of vaginal imagery in this piece has a “shock value effect”.  Meaning, that at first glance one is drawn into this piece because of the use of vagina.  At first shocked, and then integrated by the immense detail and meaning behind each piece.  I feel that Chicago knew exactly what she was doing when she decided to represent each historical woman with a vagina.  There are so many different views behind the conceptional use of the vagina. I feel that many of these views are over analysis of what Chicago actually wanted the viewer to experience.

There is no doubt that Chicago wanted the viewer to be stimulated by the piece both visually and conceptionally.  I do feel that because this piece is so complex it is very easy to over think it, which takes away from the visual experience of the art.  I suggest viewing this piece ALONE.  I would also recommend reading nothing about it before seeing it.  After going through the “kid in a candy store” type experience of seeing the Dinner Party then begin to research and understand the meaning.  The visual experience in my view is the most important part of looking at an art piece.  Visually exploring a piece of art allows the viewer to then build his or her ideas, and this is what every good artist wants.  Do not be told about the significance behind each plate at The Dinner Party, create your own.   This piece   is the future of feminist art, Chicago’s mission was to create something that would “enter the cultural pool and will never be erased from history, as woman’s work has been erased before”.  She has succeeded.

5 thoughts on “In The Time of The “Butterfly Imagery”

  1. I agree with Kramer’s point that the Dinner Party was an advertising campaign. Blatantly putting vagina’s on plates is like saying, “You don’t like vaginas? Well now i’m going to make you like them.” Similar to sit-ins and integration during the civil-rights movement.

    I also agree with your point that maybe we are being over-analytical. we judge the dinner party like we’ll never have a chance to make one again. This piece was the opinion of an individual along with other influences.

    It’s been about 40 years and there has not been another feminist piece like the Dinner Party.

    Who will be the next one to dare to recreate it?

  2. I got the sense that you were questioning what “inappropriateness” was. Because it was okay for men to show naked paintings of women, while Judy Chicago had some many difficulties on finding a museum that would exhibit her art work.
    You talk about how your feeling your the Dinner Party changed as Ileana started to talked about the background of the piece. And I think that it even changed the idea of the piece. When I saw it the first time, I was with a bunch of boys, and they were being immature about the vaginal imagery and I started feeling uncomfortable. However, when we went as a class, I did not have that feeling. Maybe because I knew exactly what this piece of art represented and that I was surrounded by a different group.

  3. It’s definitely interesting to hear a male perspective on a piece featuring so much vaginal imagery. Your shock value theory is a good one. I was also intrigued by your advice for viewing the piece. I had the total opposite impulse (I knew that if I didn’t do my research beforehand I would be unable to devote my full attention to the piece), but it just goes to show how subjective art and the experience of it are.

  4. I find the fact that “The general vaginal theme of each plate stirred up a lot of debate regarding the piece and where it should be shown because of its ‘inappropriateness’” that you spoke of in your post ludicrous and sexist. Does anyone find Michelangelo’s sculpture David “inappropriate”? Not on such a broad scale, as was seen with Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, even though the phallic imagery in Michelangelo’s sculpture David is exponentially more blatant that then vaginal imagery in Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.

  5. The way you have depicted the Dinner Party in this post is great. You really capture every detail for those who haven’t gone to see it yet. I especially loved your recommendations at the end. I found it so interesting especially because of the fact that, in some way, you didn’t get the chance to see it the way you have told other people to. When we went as a class, we read up on it and watched a movie about it. We didn’t walk into the exhibit with a fresh perspective. What you said about creating your own understanding on each plate I feel was the best part of seeing the exhibit and was a key to enjoying the exhibit for myself.

    P.S.–nice usage of pun in your title. It really caught my attention.

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