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John Simkin

Women as Artists

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Why, unlike authors, have there been so few female artists. Any explanations? Any ideas on what teachers could do to help improve the situation?

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Guest ChristineS
Why, unlike authors .......

If you look at the Literary canon you will find that until very modern times there were very, very few female authors included.

A true story.

Two of our female art teachers recently went on a welding course (for school purposes as well as personal interests; we are a specialist arts college and the entire, large art department is female).

The man running the course looked taken aback to see them, but rallied round before saying - in front of everyone else in the room (all of whom were male): I should be able to teach you all right; I taught a Special Needs class once. ;) ;)

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If you look at the Literary canon you will find that until very modern times there were very, very few female authors included.

True. Several also had to publish books using male names. (I once attended a school assembly where the deputy head described George Eliot as a “he”).

The important point was that writing in the 19th century was a cheaper and easier method of being creative, and could be kept secret from disapproving members of the family. In practical terms painting is much more difficult to do.

During the 19th century women writers overcame the problem of getting their work published and in doing so changed the social image of a writer. Unfortunately, the social image of a painter remained masculine. See Germaine Greer’s The Obstacle Race and Whitney Chadwick’s Women Art and Society for a more detailed account of this process.

Teachers obviously play a significant role in creating the social image of an artist. The main way they do this is by selecting individuals to study. How much time, for example, do students spend studying women artists in schools?

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I can't speak to that which is historically considered as Fine Art, since I have little education in that area. In the world of contemporary art and illustration, I'm inclined to say that the majority of artists ARE women. My 'sampling' is somewhat limited in that my connection with fellow artists is primarily through Christian/Judeo-Christian circles. In any gathering of Christians In the Visual Arts, Graphic Artists Guild [more gender-balanced], local Christian arts groups, and the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, I am in the definite minority as a male artist. I am of the Opinion that in general, women are far more likely to pick up a brush [or the equivalent] than men. Art is an inner thing, and women in Western society are trained to be more in tune with their inner selves.

If the non-artist finds few artists in the world, my guess is that it is because art and marketing use two different parts of the brain. Finding artists who successfully market themselves is a rarity- there are FAR more artists in the world than you'll ever see in the galleries. Women traditionally raised in 20th Century thinking are less likely to impose themselves upon the world. A lot of it has to do with self-image/ego. History is filled with egotistic artists- the ones with enough moxie to make a statement about their gifts. There are countless others, probably many of whom are/were more talented than those who became "successful", who never had the motivation to place themselves in a position to be reviewed by those who supposedly know Art.

Maybe one should ask why it is that art produced by male artists has become more accepted as ART. I'm a commercial artist, so I can't speak to Fine Art, but I often wonder why some art is considered GREAT. I've never taken any classes in the subject; no doubt I'd find some answers there. I'm very left-brained as an artist, and I have little understanding of that which I call "modern art," most of which is non-representational. I'm very aware that there are those who consider representational art as merely illustration; and I can't argue with the concept. To me, much of the world's "great" 19th and 20th Century art, is simply wierd. But I don't claim any expertise in the area. Someone decided it was great art.

I picked up the movie, "Pollock," having read that Ed Harris was somewhat of an expert on the subject; I thought maybe I could get a 'Reader's Digest' version of the meaning of whatever school of modern art Pollock falls into. What I took away from the movie is that the man was seriously disturbed, and his paintings reflected his mental state. But, hey, I'm only a commercial artist. Van Gogh was also seriously disturbed, and failed as an artist in his contemporary world; history has seen him become a great artist. I'm sure he still chuckles over the oddity of culture.

Among the many female artists I've met, many should be making a career of their talent. Many just don't have the gumption to market it. However, all of us who are infected by Art don't really have a choice as to whether or not we produce the workings of our appendages and brains. Pollock could not NOT do his art, disturbed or otherwise. I can't NOT do my art, either. Marketing it as a commercial enterprise took a different set of impulses.

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Lots of interesting issues (some deserving of their own thread) raised here.

My wife is an artist. It has not been an easy road for her. There are many reasons, one being the lack of understanding of art in society - in particular, not understanding why it's important. The first thing to go in school budgets is often the arts.

I am currently teaching the aesthetics section of our western civilization course, which is concerned less with particular artists than with what various philosophers and artists have written about art. We do include a piece from "Adam Bede" where Eliot "turns to the reader" and explains why she's writing the way she is.

I do think ego has a large role to play. One does have to have a certain amount of self-confidence to get out there and declare "I'm an artist!".

I also think that skills traditionally practiced by women (weaving, for example) are often disregarded - they're not "art". Art, of course, is much more than painting or sculpture.

It is a popular notion that "many great artists were insane" - taken out of a "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon and reinforced by Marty's post. It's also an unfortunate notion.

I think I'll start a new thread - "what is art"

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Lots of interesting issues (some deserving of their own thread) raised here.

My wife is an artist. It has not been an easy road for her. There are many reasons, one being the lack of understanding of art in society - in particular, not understanding why it's important. The first thing to go in school budgets is often the arts.

I am currently teaching the aesthetics section of our western civilization course, which is concerned less with particular artists than with what various philosophers and artists have written about art. We do include a piece from "Adam Bede" where Eliot "turns to the reader" and explains why she's writing the way she is.

I do think ego has a large role to play. One does have to have a certain amount of self-confidence to get out there and declare "I'm an artist!".

I also think that skills traditionally practiced by women (weaving, for example) are often disregarded - they're not "art". Art, of course, is much more than painting or sculpture.

It is a popular notion that "many great artists were insane" - taken out of a "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon and reinforced by Marty's post. It's also an unfortunate notion.

I think I'll start a new thread - "what is art"

Hi --

Rather a late reply --

But, I just came upon this site --

And wanted to comment on what I consider your very able insights.

Re your comment on the "popular notion that many great artists were insane" . . . I'm sad to relate that right now PBS is running a series on artists and the first one I saw was on Van Gogh and the host described his most celebrated works as having been based on his insanity/delusions!!! That's not verbatim. I haven't gone back to look at the rest of the series.

These days, I think that we have broadened our ideas about what "art" is --

there was a very interesting book -- an piece of art in itself -- written a few years ago about the beautiful quilts made by African-Americans during the years of slavery -- especially those intended to anonymously direct run-aways along the trail to freedom!

They were coded messages; each symbol directing the aware African along the path.

Also agree on "ego" and when there isn't appropriate mentoring in the schools then I think it is more difficult for anyone to identify as an "artist." I was just speaking with an art teacher who is only now first going to dedicate herself full time to her art and given her many talents in photography and oil painting, I asked why she didn't head in that direction in her youth?

She said she was constantly told that it was too difficult to make a living as an artist.

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Great thread - a most important one. It's all to do with the writing of history. From the 1972 of Linda Nochlin she argued that the “white, Western, male viewpoint” has been “accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian.” Since there is no feminist art history, one has to be constructed complete with theoretical basis and methodology.

As a  high school Art Teacher and Artist I find the best place to start is taking a look at the Guerrilla Girls and their political and social critique of the art world:

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-guerrilla-girls-artworks.htm

I wrote a program called Photography and The Future of Feminism looking at Cindy Sherman, Tracy Moffatt and Claude Cahun that worked really well. I think its about inclusion and re-writing. 

 

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