Monday, March 10, 2008
Women's History Month
I'm a lot more comfortable in front of an easel than an audience. But when I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Massasoit College for thier luncheon in honor of Women's History Month I couldn't refuse since this year, the theme is "Womens Art: Women's Vision." I'm always happy for the opportunity to share what I do as an artist with the public and this event made me think about the role of women in the arts and more importantly, who I am as an artist.
I was thinking about how much being an artist defines who I am as a person. It's been a lifelong desire to convert the visual world into a painted representation of it. When I went to art school in the 70's, there was a rebellion against everything, including academic rules. The manifesto of the avant-garde was to discard the artistic traditions in favor of free expression. They even went so far as to announce that painting was dead! It took me 20 years to rediscover painting in the traditional sense.
When I painted from life as opposed to photos, I learned to SEE. What I mean by that is, I understood the fundamental concept of what light does when it illuminates an object. There is a difference between an image that is photographically correct and one that is “alive”. This radically changed my perception - and I made a serious commitment to painting.
On the subject of the contribution of WOMEN IN THE ARTS, Id like to share some things that I came across while doing my research...
"To be celebrated in one's own times only to fall into obscurity is a fate not unknown among male artists, but it is an experience that has befallen almost every female artist, however famous in her own era". And, Hans Hoffmann had this to say about his student, Lee Krasner's work: "This is so good, you wouldn't know it was painted by a woman." Some of you may know that Krasner was the wife of Jackson Pollock and damn good painter.
How many women artists can you name off the top of your head: Mary Cassatt, Cecelia Beau, Camille Claudele... many were married to well know painters: Khalo/Rivera, O'Keefe/Stieglitz.
But have you ever heard of these women from the Renaissance period?
Sofonisba Anguissola (1535-1625), She had a brilliant career both in Italy and at the Spanish court. But she was not in the habit of signing her paintings and was paid in Madrid as a lady-in-waiting (as befitted her noble birth), not as an artist. Her work was attributed to Titian, Van Dyck, Zubaran.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3), the first great woman painter of the female nude and the first woman member of Florence's Academy. Hew work was attributed to her father, Orazio and only recently recredited to its rightful author.
Judith Leyster (1609-1660), friend, colleague, sometimes rival of Franz Hals. She was "rediscovered" towards the end of the 19th century, when a picture sold to the Louvre as a Hals turned out to bear her signature.
This made me think about why women don't seem to acheive the same recognition as men in the arts and I came up with some theories:
1. Women are caretakers, it's hard to balance kids, husbands and housework with studio time. Ironically, if married to an artist, they are often the caretakers for their husbands career.
2. Men have huge egos. Ask 50 women artists if thier work is great and then asked 50 male artists, a much higher percentage of men would say they were great.
3. Women artists are twice as likely as men to be financially supported by their partner - it being more socially comfortable for women than for men.
4. Men are more assertive in terms of promoting their work. And, maybe it's because assertiveness is important in the art itself. Collectors like art that has balls! Actually, this brings to mind the painting by Jasper Johns, "Painting with Two Balls." A paint-splattered canvas with two balls inserted between the canvas panels. A double entendre, to satirize the physical prowess implied in Abstract Expressionist painting. In other words; a painting must have balls!
Last year, I attended an invitational paint-out in Laguna Beach, which draws nationally ranked painters. I was struck by the fact that the women invited to paint, appeared grateful to have been included, unlike their male counterparts who owned the honor to be there.
Money vs. Art
The time and commitment it takes to become a skilled painter is enormous and it's very difficult to make a living as an artist. That being said, the need to create should not be rooted in the market place; it's deadly for an artist to approach the easel with that goal in mind. I have to feel almost indifferent to ‘outside validations’ and continue to work towards my own personal goals. I try to keep my head down. "I paint because I have to" - it's who I am, and what I do. And although it's not about money, it sure feels good when I sell a painting!