Art History Lab

Revolutionary Art of the 1970s: Breaking Boundaries and Inspiring Change

The Influence of 1970s Art Styles

The 1970s marked an exciting and transformative time for the art world. It was an era of new ideas, a departure from the traditional art forms and an exploration of the creative possibilities in various mediums.

Influenced by the social, political, and cultural movements of the time, several art styles emerged that had a lasting impact on the art world. In this article, we will explore the influence of 1970s art styles, their subtopics, key players, and how they shaped the art landscape.

Expansion of the art landscape

One of the significant changes in art during the 1970s was the merging of art and living. As artists began to realize that art could be everywhere, the boundaries between art and life started to blur.

This led to the emergence of new art forms such as installation art, performance art, and graffiti art.

Installation art

Installation art is the creation of three-dimensional artworks that transform a space. They are often site-specific and designed to interact with the viewer’s body and the surrounding environment.

Artists who made notable installation art include Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Claes Oldenburg, and Dan Flavin. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are known for their large-scale installation art, such as their work “The Gates” in Central Park in New York City.

Performance art

Performance art is an art form where artists perform actions that are often choreographed or scripted. It can also be improvised or spontaneous.

In comparison to traditional theatre, performance art does not follow a narrative structure. It often aims to provoke an emotional or psychological response in the audience.

Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, and Vito Acconci are among the notable artists who pioneered performance art in the 1970s.

Graffiti art

Graffiti art is an art form created using spray paint on walls, buildings, and other public spaces. It evolved from the urban street culture scene and was used to express political and social commentary.

Graffiti art was often considered an act of rebellion against the government and societal norms. Some well-known graffiti artists of the 1970s include Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Exploration of the body as a canvas

Another significant change in art during the 1970s was the exploration of the body as a canvas. Artists used the human body as an art form to communicate political, social, and cultural messages.

This led to the emergence of body art and performance art.

Body art

Body art is the creation of body decorations using the human body as a canvas. It is often temporary and can be altered or washed away.

Tattooing, body piercing, and scarification are all types of body art. The female body was particularly used to convey feminist messages in art during the 1970s.

Notable female artists who used body art to make feminist statements include Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke.

Performance art

As mentioned earlier, performance art also played a significant role in the exploration of the body as a canvas. Artists used their bodies to convey political and social messages.

One of the most well-known feminist performance art pieces was Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party”. It was an installation artwork consisting of a triangular table with place settings for 39 significant women in history.

Challenges Influencing 1970s Art Style

The 1970s art styles were not free from challenges. Several social, political, and cultural happenings influenced the development of art in this era.

Impact of the hippie culture and student demonstrations

The counterculture movement and student demonstrations of the 1960s had a significant impact on the art world in the 1970s. Artists began to produce work that reflected the political and social upheavals of the time.

Their works focused on anti-war protests, civil rights, and feminist issues. Artists used art to express their anger, frustration, and their desire for change.

Feminism as a catalyst for change in art

Feminism was another significant factor that influenced art in the 1970s. Women began to use their art to address feminism issues, including reproductive rights, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Artists such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro founded the first feminist art program in California in 1971. The program aimed to train and empower women artists and to address the male-dominated art world.


In conclusion, the 1970s marked a revolutionary time in the art world. Artists challenged traditional art forms and explored the creative possibilities in various mediums.

The boundaries between art and life began to blur as artists merged the two, creating new forms of art such as installation art, performance art, and graffiti art. The 1970s also marked a significant shift in feminist art, with female artists using their art to convey feminist messages.

Despite the challenges faced by artists during this time, their works continue to inspire and influence the art world today.

The Most Important 1970s Art Styles

The 1970s saw an explosion of artistic movements, and some of the most important art styles emerged during this period. The art of the 1970s was a response to the social, political, and cultural changes happening at the time.

In this article, we will explore three of the most important 1970s art styles, their subtopics, key players, and how they influenced the art world.

Land Art as a reimagining of traditional exhibition settings

Land art, also known as earth art or environmental art, emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. It involves creating art in natural landscapes using materials found on-site.

The aim of land art is to create a connection between the artwork and the natural world. It is an attempt to reimagine traditional exhibition settings.

One of the most famous land artists of the 1970s was Robert Smithson. His most recognizable work is the Spiral Jetty, located in Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Spiral Jetty is a 1,500-foot-long sculpture that spirals counterclockwise in the middle of the lake. Smithson used over 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks to create the sculpture.

The Spiral Jetty’s location in the lake is significant because the water level rises and falls with the seasons, meaning that the artwork changes over time. This makes the artwork more connected to nature and more impermanent, which was a key feature of land art.

Performance Art challenging traditional assumptions

Performance art is an art form that emphasizes actions, rather than objects. The aim of performance art is to create an experience for the audience that challenges traditional assumptions about what art is.

Performance art often involves the artist’s body and can include endurance, pain, and risk-taking. Many performance artists of the 1970s addressed feminist issues, one of the most notable being Marina Abramovic.

Abramovic is a Serbian performance artist who first became famous in the 1970s. One of her most well-known performances is “Rhythm 0,” in which she stood motionless for six hours while the audience was invited to interact with her using a table of 72 objects.

Some of the objects were harmless, like a rose, while others were potentially dangerous, like a scalpel. The audience was allowed to use the objects on Abramovic however they chose, turning her body into an art object.

The aim of the performance was to expose the power dynamics between the artist and the audience, and the psychological effects of violence and intimacy.

Gutai Art breaking away from traditional art creation

Gutai Art emerged in Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but it reached its peak in the 1970s. The Gutai Art movement aimed to break away from traditional art creation and to connect the artist’s body with the artwork.

Gutai Art used the artist’s body as a tool to create art, through painting, sculpture, and performance. Some of the most influential Gutai artists of the 1970s include Kazuo Shiraga and Atsuko Tanaka.

Kazuo Shiraga was famous for his “foot paintings.” He used his feet to paint on large canvases, creating abstract paintings with swirling colors and textures. Atsuko Tanaka was known for her performance art pieces that used electricity and neon lights.

In one performance, she created a suit made out of neon lights and danced in the dark wearing the suit.

1970s Abstract Art

The 1970s marked a significant period for abstract art. The art form experienced a flux and diversity in the 1970s, with artists experimenting with figuration, performance art, and conceptual art.

Some of the key players in the 1970s abstract art scene include Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Robert Ryman.

Flux and diversity in abstract art

The 1970s saw a significant shift in the way abstract art was created. Traditional methods of abstract art, such as painting or sculpture, were challenged by artists who were interested in performance art and conceptual art.

Artists used the body to create abstract art and explored new mediums such as film and photography. This led to a diverse range of abstract art styles that were more connected to the human experience.

Debate on the dynamism of abstract art in the 1970s

There was significant debate during the 1970s about the dynamism of abstract art. Some critics argued that the art form had lost its importance, as new and more political art styles were emerging.

However, other critics argued that abstract art had evolved and was more dynamic than ever before. They pointed out that the diverse range of styles and mediums made the art form more relevant and exciting.


The 1970s marked an exciting era of artistic experimentation and creativity. Land art, performance art, and Gutai Art challenged traditional art forms and reimagined the art experience.

Abstract art experienced a flux and diversity, with artists exploring new mediums and ways of creating abstract art. Although the 1970s are long behind us, these important art movements and artists have influenced and inspired new generations of artists to this day.

Important 1970s Artists

The 1970s was a pivotal decade for the art world, with numerous artists making significant contributions to the field. These artists challenged traditional norms and pushed boundaries, creating thought-provoking and memorable works.

In this article, we will explore five important artists of the 1970s, their subtopics, key works, and their lasting impact on the art world. Betye Saar’s exploration of time and memory

Betye Saar is a renowned assemblage artist known for her powerful and thought-provoking works that explore themes of time, history, and memory.

Saar often incorporates found objects and repetitive imagery in her artworks, creating visual narratives that speak to collective memories and shared experiences. One of Saar’s notable works is “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima” (1972).

In this piece, Saar recontextualizes the stereotypical Mammy figure, transforming it into a symbol of empowerment and liberation. By placing Aunt Jemima in a row of meticulously arranged bottles, Saar confronts and challenges racial stereotypes, shedding light on the struggle for African American identity and agency.

Judy Chicago’s feminist art and advocacy for women artists

Judy Chicago is a feminist artist whose work has had a profound impact on the art world, specifically in addressing gender inequities and advocating for the recognition of women artists. Chicago is best known for her monumental installation artwork, “The Dinner Party” (1974-1979).

“The Dinner Party” is a powerful and iconic work that seeks to rewrite art history by honoring women’s achievements throughout history. The installation consists of a triangular table with place settings for 39 significant women, embroidered runners, and ceramic plates representing different time periods.

Each plate features intricate symbols and imagery that celebrate women’s contributions to various fields. Chuck Close’s innovative approaches to portraiture

Chuck Close is an American artist celebrated for his innovative and unconventional approaches to portraiture.

Close’s work challenges traditional conventions by exploring the human face in immense detail and using a variety of techniques. One of Close’s notable works from the 1970s is his self-portrait, “Big Self-Portrait” (1967-1968).

The large-scale painting is composed of various tiny squares filled with color, creating a highly detailed and realistic representation of the artist’s face. The use of this grid-like methodology became a signature of Close’s artistic style and approach to portraiture.

Lynda Benglis’ provocative and controversial art

Lynda Benglis is an American artist known for her provocative and controversial works that push the boundaries of traditional art forms. In the 1970s, Benglis gained notoriety for her exploration of materials and her fearless approach to challenging societal norms.

One of her most infamous works is her 1974 advertisement in Artforum, in which Benglis appeared nude and covered in a viscous substance. The provocative nature of the advertisement caused a stir within the art community, initiating debates on gender, sexuality, and the power dynamics within the art world.

Benglis’ bold and confrontational approach continues to inspire artists to challenge societal conventions through their art. Barbara Kruger’s text-based works addressing gender inequities

Barbara Kruger is a conceptual artist known for her text-based works that address social and political issues, particularly gender inequities.

Kruger’s works often merge text with bold imagery, combining provocative statements and slogans. In the 1970s, Kruger began creating her signature red, white, and black layouts, evoking the aesthetics of advertising and mass media.

Her work challenges the power dynamics, gender roles, and consumerism prevalent in society. Some of her memorable slogans include “Your body is a battleground” and “I shop therefore I am,” encapsulating her exploration of feminism and media critique.


The 1970s introduced a new wave of artists who challenged traditional norms and pushed the boundaries of artistic expression. Betye Saar, Judy Chicago, Chuck Close, Lynda Benglis, and Barbara Kruger explored themes of time, memory, feminism, and social issues through their innovative and impactful artworks.

Their contributions continue to resonate in the art world, inspiring future generations of artists to challenge conventions and provoke thought through their artistic endeavors. The art of the 1970s was marked by innovative approaches, provocative statements, and a drive to challenge traditional norms.

Artists such as Betye Saar, Judy Chicago, Chuck Close, Lynda Benglis, and Barbara Kruger made significant contributions to the art world during this time, exploring themes of time, memory, feminism, and social issues. Through their works, they pushed the boundaries of artistic expression and sparked important conversations.

The impact of these artists continues to be felt today, inspiring future generations to challenge conventions and use art as a tool for social change. The art of the 1970s reminds us of the power of creativity to provoke thought, challenge the status quo, and create lasting impact.

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