Artists on Artists: Tiffany Shlain


This week on the CANVAS Compendium, another installment of Artists on Artists, when we turn over the keys to an artist we admire to tell us about the Jewish artists they admire. This time it’s Tiffany Shlain, an acclaimed artist and Reboot alum.

North California–based Tiffany Shlain is an artist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, a best-selling author, and an activist whose work explores the intersection of feminism, ecology, neuroscience, technology, Jewish identity, and philosophy. You can find out more about her on her website.

Shortly before the pandemic, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City premiered her one-woman “spoken cinema” show, Dear Human—a combination of live performance, visual, and sound—about the relationship between humanity and technology. When the world shut down, Shlain began working in large-scale sculpture, photography, and mixed media, exploring themes of scale, perspective, and time.

She was selected as artist-in-residence by SHACK15 at the San Francisco Ferry Building, and began creating an exhibition, Human Nature, which was presented by the National Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C. and Women Connect4Good. ​ 

Shlain’s Jewish-focused work includes the films The Tribe, The Making of a Mensch, and Technology Shabbats and her bestselling book 24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection, which won the Marshall McLuhan Outstanding Book Award. 

In addition to bringing the Human Nature exhibition to new locations in 2023, she is working on a film on the adolescent brain and a museum show in LA in 2024.

About the artists she chose, Shlain said: “I am inspired by bold women artists who break boundaries and cross genres and mediums or create new ones, who show us a woman’s perspective, and use their practice for political statements to provoke and ultimately change society.”

Below, Shlain explains her inspiration in her own words. 

Featured image: Tiffany Shlain with “Dendrofemenology”, feminist history tree ring, reclaimed cedar, 2022. 

Judy Chicago

Who knew how badly I needed to see that massive, bold triangular table with place settings lovingly crafted by a collective of 400 artists into the monumental The Dinner Party led by Judy Chicago? The audacity, beauty, and collaborative nature of the work slayed me. Even her chosen last name of “Chicago” feels full of moxie. I have always loved Toni Morrison’s quote, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I felt that inclination pulsing through the artwork. She had to make it. My feminist history tree-ring timeline Dendrofemonology was created in the same spirit. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

V (formerly Eve Ensler)

The first time I saw the The Vagina Monologues, 25 years ago in San Francisco, I felt like a core part of my body was finally being seen, validated, celebrated, acknowledged, and understood in all its complexity. I was later cast in the show, and my monologue was to say every different slang term for vagina. It was liberating to feel her words flow through me on stage. That book has been published in over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. Having others perform her words is performance art taken to a stratospheric level. We are her art. Our awakening at saying the words that were forbidden is political in the most profound way and has evolved us as a society. Image: from V’s 2019 Ted Talk, The Power of an Authentic Apology.

Miranda July

July’s nostalgic doe-like expression belies her edgy underbelly. She’s subversive, profound, funny, and deadly serious all at once. Never fitting into a box myself, when I find other artists who make films and write and do art, it makes me want to shout from a rooftop, “There is no box!” Image: interview with July, Youtube.

Frida Kahlo

When I travelled to Mexico and read that Frida Kahlo’s father was Jewish, it was like, “Yes, a fellow Jewess! I never knew!” I recently learned this wasn’t true—genealogists have shown that her father’s family were actually German Lutherans. But Frida Kahlo felt a strong connection with the Jewish people, as many of us do with her, finding her work exploring her own story and trauma deeply moving. She doesn’t hide the scars, but transforms them into art. It’s equally fascinating that she often spoke about her father’s Jewish background, even if it wasn’t true; it raises interesting questions about identity that inform her work. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Maya Deren

One of my heroes is Maya Deren, who made amazing experimental films in the 1940s and 50s. When she began making films, there were no places in the US to screen her avant-garde work, so she decided to show her films in her West Village apartment in New York. Then she started renting theaters to show them. She toured around, encouraging others to make experimental and personal films, which planted the seeds for art-house cinemas. She created a space for alternative films and helped birth independent cinema. She’s often referred to as the mother of avant-garde film and carved a path for all filmmakers. Image: Maya Deren in “At Land”.

Kimberly Brooks

Kimberly Brooks is an accomplished artist. She also happens to be my sister. Our parents were feminists, and we grew up in that soil. We share the DNA of a mother whose doctoral work was on the importance of female mentors, and a father who wrote in his book Art & Physics about how artists and scientists were exploring the same ideas through different languages, and in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, about how the cultural shift from image to word played a huge part in contributing to today’s patriarchal society. You feel such a strong female perspective in all of her canvases. I think you can see that clearly in her keen capturing of women’s power, especially the one of our mother at the dawn of the sexual revolution (above), and in the confident brushstrokes of her recent abstracts. Like me, she finds the creative process as interesting as the result, as she shows in her recent book, The New Oil Painting. I love talking to her about creativity and process, the art world, and just about anything. Image: “Hot Faucet,” oil on linen, courtesy of the artist.

And not to be missed…

Jenny Holzer, who took the form of something we thought we knew, the neon sign, and subverted it with thought-provoking text. I love her humor, irony, and profound comments on society; in the noise of the information age, Jenny’s signal blares through it all.
Barbara Kruger, who wields the power of words and images in her artwork like a sorcerer, shocking an asleep society into consciousness. I love the interplay of text in art, drawing you in and making you use both sides of your brain. As Kruger’s work shows, when word and image collide, sublime alchemy explodes into existence.

Read our previous Artists on Artists curated by Tim Haviv and Eden Pearlstein of Ayin Press here.

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