Welcome to “In the Frame,” a brand new guest blog that will hopefully give you some feminist-tinged insight into the complex world of art. Whether you’re a fan of the Guerrilla Girls, you have a burning passion for Tamara de Lempicka, or you don’t really get the whole genre but wouldn’t mind hearing a bit about it, I hope this series meets all of your needs. I want to make you stop and think about the way we all subconsciously absorb gender roles when it comes to art, hearing about countless exhibitions by revered male painters who encounter females as models but not as competition. I want you to question why there have to be separate awards for men and women in today’s society, such as the MaxMara Art Prize for Women.
Being a feminist and an art lover is somewhat tricky; the two things don’t really meet in the middle as much as I would like, and that’s essentially what sparked my interest in writing about the topic for Bitch. I was one of those kids who liked doodling and could be left with the crayons for a whole day, which later meant that I took art at college, spent large portions of my week visiting galleries, and continued to express myself through drawing and illustration. However I was disheartened to find that, since childhood, 99% of my studies of art have been male-focused and that women artists are often dealt with as a separate category, even in 2011. We have our own categories in art history textbooks and few of our number can dream of moving into the mainstream market. Yet what do we all so often find ourselves staring at when we view art from the last few centuries (aside from that cliché of the still life painting with fruit bowl), but a naked female body? We were raised on a diet of luscious ladies, right from the paleolithic Venus of Willendorf statue that was made up to 24,000 years ago, her plump and clothing-free body preserved in stone. She’s a beacon of fertility and feminine beauty, but she’s also vulnerable, exposed and judged. The eyes of men, and indeed self-conscious women, haven’t really stopped engaging with lovely lady lumps ever since.
It’s fair to say that art history would be a pretty dull place if you ignored every single example of a woman’s form, so we’re obviously a part of the phenomenon—just the part that many assume can pose but not actively participate. I want to redress the balance as much as possible, by looking at the iconic women who are involved in the art industry, whether they are the creatives, the muses or the promoters. I also want to question—as the Guerrilla Girls have been doing for years—why so many leading progressive galleries and museums claim to display the world’s greatest art, yet they rarely mention contributions by females or artists of color. On a recent visit to France I was given a leaflet about the wonders of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, but none of the artworks they deemed must-sees were dreamt up by a female, and it made me feel really embittered that nobody had even attempted to add in the token girl. It was obviously not a concern of the Pompidou’s PR department, but I think it should be. Of course I’m not going assume that every woman artist is a feminist who dreams of equality, or that every male is a chauvinist pig (because that would be a massive generalization), but I will present you with some women worthy of being role models. I want you to see images that make you feel empowered, not marginalized or inferior. Hopefully I’ll be showing you a more enlightened and inspirational view of art by exploring the female contribution; maybe it’ll give you the urge to pick up a pen or some clay and see where it leads.
By the way, if there’s a kick-ass female or feminist artist that you’d like to see In the Frame, please let me know (I’m not trying to get you to write the blog for me, honest—I just value your opinions and your own knowledge of the topic, because I know there are so many unsung heroines of art that they need to be rescued from obscurity).