thing beyond money-that's really revolutionary.
JC: I'm not promoting that as a final goal, but
we don't have the money now. If we had the
money, we would buy women's art, we would
find all the ways we could to support womens'
culture. But if we don't have money it doesn't
mean we are bereft of ways of providing or giving rewards. A lot of this has come from my
own experience of feeling tremendously unrewarded. I don't have any money, I'm not in
museum collections, I don't have any of the traditional rewards that a man who is my peer
would have. And I have felt incredibly isolated
from the very community that I helped give
birth to. I think it's important to learn from
that because I don't want other women to feel
like that. I think that the women who have
achieved, who are our leaders and our heroes,
we need to find ways to make them not feel
isolated and make them feel rewarded. I don't
think it's anything we've addressed at all. So
being a success is actually very isolating, more
isolating because then people want more from
NLF: You've talked about money, art that's
relevant to society, wanting to challenge definition of art; could you talk about some ofyour
goals and what you think The Dinner Party
might do toward those?
JC: A lot of it has to do with the idea that art
has an incredible power to change people's lives
have thousands of posters and images of all of
NLF: How is it inaccessible?
JC: First of all, in order to see it, you have to
go to a museum. OK now we know that a lot of
that work by women isn't even hung in a museum. And then, even if you do manage to see it,
it's hung in a context where there's maybe one
Mary Cassatt and 12 Picassos and four Renoirs
and two Matisses and three Manets ... So
Here's this one little voice saying "I don't
think so." But it gets drowned...
NLF: So you walk away saying "Golly, there
was a woman impressionist."
JC: Exactly. But you don't get the full impact
of her work. You don't get to know about how
Mary Cassatt created a mural called Modern
Woman, 65 feet long, which was lost. Lost! Nobody went to look for it either, because it was a
set of images of women that were quite challenging. ..
Let's say there's a painting in the museum
that really makes you feel good, what can you
do, you gonna go there every day? No, you
have to have it on your wall. OK, how do you
get it on your wall? Well, the way you get it on
your wall is for women artists to make images
where hundreds of thousands of them can get
on women's walls all over the world so that
every day, women can have that experience of
feeling affirmed by an image that says, you
really are OK, you really are terrific, there
studio at night.
DB: You mean they're not trained to take
JC: They're not trained to take risks; they're
not trained to be entrepreneurs, they're just...
NLF: Who do you mean, "they?"
JC: We. Well, I am trained that way! They yes,
they, I'm not like that. I mean I wasn't like
that. I had my grandma-my grandma ran the
whole business and supported the whole family
while my grandpa was a rabbi and never made a
DB: To be fair, can it be argued that women
have more to lose and less to gain?
JC: What do we have to lose? What we have to
lose is security, a certain illusion of security.
You know how much security I have? Til the
end of next month. This is after 20 years of
work. I don't know what'll happen after that.
NLF: There's another kind of security too. I've
been reading Germaine Greer's The Obstacle
Race and she says that for so many women it's
been a choice between art and life.
JC: I'm getting what you call a little more mature. I think that achievement costs. I think
it's ridiculous to pretend that it doesn't cost.
There's no question men still have wives and
can have kids and they don't have to say: do I
have to make a choice between having kids and
being an artist? But I think we've all been
brought up with some delusions, like what does
it cost for a man to have to support a woman?
Judy Chicago in front of The Dinner Party exhibit
and art, the way it is now, is as imprisoned as
women and as powerless. For example, women
in the 20th century struggled with ideas about
who they are and what their major loyalty is.
That is so silly. Charlotte Bronte, in the 19th
century, addressed it and answered it. And all
we have to do is read a book and we know the
answer and its the same thing about art images,
you know. There's a lot of images of women
that are not like the images of women that are
in the museum. They're made by women, Frida
Kahlo, Suzanne Valadon, Mary Cassatt and
Berthe Morisot and all these images of women
that provide a different sense of self for us-
Artemesia Gentileschi-all we have to do is look
at those and we get affirmed in the idea that we
can be strong and we don't have to be passive.
We can be assertive and we don't have to be receptive. All these women struggling with those
ideas, and feeling insecure and unable, if they
had one of those images on their walls they
would get re-ienforced everyday. But art is tied
up so that it's inaccessible to women. We don't
really is another way to be a woman. Just think
about what if every wall in your house was
covered with those images and when you woke
up in the morning, every day, you got that
message. It would certainly help when you got
out on the street and got barraged with the
Women, psychologically, are labor-intensive.
For example, we have a mail-order business
which generated about $30,000 a year. We're
having enormous trouble finding a woman who
can think in the following way: this business is
generating $30,000 a year, I could go to a bank,
take out a loan and generate enough money to
do advertisements and build up this business.
But in order to do it, I will have to work for
two years for nothing-l will not get three
dollars an hour. I will have to take a risk that it
may not work. But if it does work, I will
generate an enormous amount of money.
Women are not trained to think like that.
Women think it's better for me to go get a
job as a waitress for $3 an hour and work in my
What does it cost a man to be married to a
woman who is basically resentful that she isn't
her own person? How much nagging does he
NLF: So there's a cost to both?
JC: Yes there's a cost to everything and I
think that's one of the things that I'm just
learning now. It's true we don't have the same
DB: In light of that, it must be terribly frustrating to think that The Dinner Party is going to
be in storage for such a long time and not be
viewed by women all over the country for
almost a year?
JC: That's one of the reasons I did the books,
because that's another way for women to have
it and it's one of the reasons we have a mail order business so that women can buy posters,
slides, postcards and have images that don't
cost a lot of money. Those are all the efforts
that I 've been making for awhile now to try and
make images accessible. The needlework book
is going to have an incredible amount of draw
ings in it, pages and pages of drawings where I
took the runners, the images on the runners,
and transformed them into drawings on the
pages so that a woman might never see The
Dinner Party but she'll have the images...
The only real alternative images are women's art and of course that art is only now beginning to become available, accessible. Women
artists are only beginning now to even think
about changing their ideas about audience, that
their art is not for just a small group of elitists
-there's a whole big audience out there. Even
then you come up against all kinds of problems:
how do you distribute it? how do you get the
capital to distribute it?
You know, after The Dinner Party was over,
after it went into storage, I went through a lot
of months waking up every morning saying,
what's the point? I lost my marriage, all my relationships blew up, I had no personal life left,
I had no money. I was in debt, the piece wasn't
being shown. I got none of the traditional rewards. I went through a lot of days of saying,
what's the point?
NLF: I was struck by what you said I think in
the NY Times about the place in Senneca
Falls where ...
JC: Oh, the laundromat! Diane Gelon told me
about that. It actually started from her being
here. Diane, my assistant project coordinator,
came here (to Texas) and saw the Alamo and
then she went to Senneca Falls, where the 1848
Women's Rights Convention was held. It was a
laundromat and she was just real shaken up by
it. So that's it-there's all this honor for the
Alamo, then in Senneca Falls, which changed
all our lives, it's a laundromat.
DB: There is a tremendous spiritual quality in
your work, and in your writing. And yet, what
troubled me was, throughout your writings,
you acknowledge the fact that the church, or at
least organized religion, hierarchical religion,
has really punished women for their creative
genius. How do you see this being resolved, or
JC: I don't exactly know how to answer that.
I got a letter last week from a woman who had
seen The Dinner Party, a Jewish woman. She
organized a dinner party in her community and
they started talking about the fact that Judaism
and some of the other religions have been opening up to women and that there have been a
number of women who've actually entered the
rabbinate and finished, trained as rabbis, but
have not been able to act on their training.
They haven't been able to conduct services and
get posts and it's not only because of discrimination; it's also because they've encountered
some incredible terror at the whole process of
conducting a religious service.
When I was studying all this needlework, I
went to a museum and there was this glove, this
ecclesiastical glove that had all this ornate embroidery on it, and gems and stuff. Well, I put
it on. All of a sudden, I imagined myself completely covered in these garments that hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds of human hours
had been expended in making. And there I was
standing there, and all these hours said; you are
above, you are special, you are important, you
are holy, you are somebody incredible. That's
what all that encrusted stuff is. I can't even tell
you what an experience it was! I don't know
how to answer your question except to tell you
that I think there are women who are trying to
participate in patriarchal religions. There are
women who are trying to change patriarchal
religions. There are women trying to replace
patriarchal religion. I think all of that comes
out of a lack of a spiritual belief system that we
can now embrace. What that will be I'm not
sure. I don't think it can be the old forms.
We have finally come to a place in history
where we're participating in the human dream.
The human dream, the life of the spirit, is to
infuse life with value, with meaning, to infuse it
with something beyond the moment and to
find some transcendant substance to life. I
don't think organized religion is giving it right
now but I certainly think that as feminists
that's what we're looking for, some way to recreate that.
NLF: Do you see women as leading the way?
JC: Of course. Men are just holding the fort.