In the Frame: Great Artists Always Male? I Demand a Recount!

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).

by Polly Allen
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23 Comments Have Been Posted

this is awesome!! super

this is awesome!! super excited to read this column.

I'm excited to see where this

I'm excited to see where this column goes! I am an English Lit minor, and have had similar frustrations. At my university there are entire classes devoted to singular male authors, but women typically get lumped into a "diversity lit class." White male authors get a blow horn. And while I love a lot of these authors, it's frustrating to only hear one voice, and for it to be seemingly considered in the academic realm as the generic voice in which other voices are outside of.

women artists!

Yes Yes Yes! I'm thrilled with your new blog. I keep a blog about women in art myself, focusing on middle-America. Check it out - TONS of women to write about - like Wanda Ewing, whom I love love love who examines ace, beauty standards, sexuality and identity in her prints and paintings...

Article Topic Suggestion

Please look into writing about Sokuntevy Oeur; she's been dubbed "The Cambodian Frida Kahlo".

The Phnom Penh Post ( has written a few articles about her and you can check out her work at (

Can't wait to read! :-D

Ooo, exciting!

More artist ideas:

Daphne Odjig - important and influential First Nations artist in Canada!

Alexis Macdonald Seto - I don't know much about her but I love what I can find out about this piece:
also here:

Hannah Hoch - German Dada artist of the Weimar period - "one of the originators of photomontage."

Charlotte Salomon - German-Jewish painter/sequential artist who was killed in Auschwitz. Her huge "Life? or Theatre?" is an amazing work.

Barbara Kruger - prominent American conceptual and feminist artist with tons of design influence. You might recognize “I shop therefore I am” or "Your body is a battleground."

Thank you for your feedback!

It's great to hear that so many of you are as excited about this blog topic as I am. I'll get back to you individually, but firstly I just wanted to say thanks - I think we can safely say from your comments that there is a demand for women to have a stronger presence in art and for better coverage of the female artists you love.


I'm so excited to read your column, Polly. I'm currently a graduate student in Art History and Arts Administration and am constantly looking for ways to integrate feminist theory and perspective in my work. After re-reading Nochlin's seminal essay last week for class, I'm really interested to hear what you'll have to say about current methods of how to view work by women artists and feminist work in general--as well as the politics of representing women in visual artworks. Art's the best! Check out Erica Lord ( and I just saw Betye, Alison and Lezley Saar speak last week. Pretty incredible. Also, Libby Black.

In the Frame

Interesting that you brought up the Pompidou leaflet: In 2009-10 that museum featured a comprehensive/retrospective exhibition of feminist art called "elles@centrepompidou". One would think the powerful messages in the important work installed during that time would have made a notch into their marketing materials.
When I began teaching Women in Art in 1987, I proposed the course as a five-year compensatory filler until the canon had adjusted to readdress the imbalance in the art history survey at that time. I'm still teaching the course...and it often seems we need to fight negative media imagery that is worse now than then.
Good luck with the blog. Keep up the fight. My generation is handing over the torch!

Very excited about this

Very excited about this column! I'm currently doing a Master's in Art History and most of my work focuses on feminist art as well.

Here's some amazing people I would love to see featured!

Mona Hatoum - fantastic artist from Lebanon, her work deals a lot with subverting images of domesticity and representing women's bodies in alternative ways - and she does some awesome work with human hair!

Allyson Mitchell - an amazing Toronto-based fat activist/queer/feminist artist - she quite deliberately negotiates with feminist politics in her work - check out the Ladies Sasquatch project. She also just opened the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG for short) in Toronto with her partner and fellow artist Deirdre Logue.

And for more historical ladies - Hannah Hoch made some fantastic Dada collages and Romaine Brooks did some really beautiful portraits of women on the Paris Left bank in the 1920s - all great people to check out.

Oh! and Claude Cahun - another artist that I really admire - took some really astounding gender-bending self-portraits

Eee can you tell I'm excited?? This is going to be a great column! Looking forward to seeing what comes next

Oh - and Jana Sterbak - the

Oh - and Jana Sterbak - the Canadian feminist artist who originally created the meat dress (Lady Gaga eat your heart out)

this is going to be such and

this is going to be such and interesting column to read. right on!


I'm really excited for this column!

Some of my favorite lady-artists:
Eva Hesse (obv.)
Anat Betzer
Melanie Daniel
Claire Sherman

I'm just finishing up my BFA this semester, and I'm definitely annoyed by the constant man-slant of all my art history classes. Generally, even when the course is taught by a woman, we'll have a single day (maybe two, if we're lucky) that is Learn About Women Artists Day, in which we either cover one or two artists, or skim through them absurdly quickly.

Interestingly enough, that was today. There was some interesting discussion about being a woman and working in the field of art. What I've found - and this seemed to happen to a lot of other women in my class as well - is that people are more than willing to accept that a man is serious about his art, but for women, it's seen as a hobby instead of rigorous practice.


Must add more ideas!

Oh! I love reading people's suggestions!

And yes! I second Allyson Mitchell!

Then it struck me --HOW could I forget:

The "Cancon":
(a term meaning "Canadian Content" -- from the old Canadian media broadcast quotas)

Kenojuak Ashevak - THE Kenojuak (from Cape Dorset, Canada) -- the awesome, most famous, Inuit print artist!

Emily Carr - well-known white Canadian painter and author. Studied under Lawren Harris, of Canada's famous "Group of Seven." Potentially controversial inclusion of/approach to Pacific Northwest Coast aboriginal villages, totem poles, and carvings in many of her paintings (I don't know enough about this aspect of current interpretation of her work).

Joyce Wieland - playful and influential white, feminist, Canadian pop/craft media artist and film maker, whose career ran from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Non-Canadian Content :)

Artemisia Gentileschi - "Italian Early Baroque painter, today considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation influenced by Caravaggio" (Wikipedia)

Mary Cassatt - white American painter, Impressionist with the Impressionists, many wonderful paintings of mothers with children.

Käthe Kollwitz - the famous "German painter, printmaker, and sculptor whose work offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition in the first half of the 20th century" and a "a committed socialist and pacifist"

Faith Ringgold - "an African-American artist and author who was born in 1930 in Harlem, New York City, and who is best known for her large, painted story quilts" (from

Augusta Savage - African-American sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, and an important teacher of later artists.

Louise Nevelson - modern American sculptor of "monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces" (Wikipedia) that are often very beautiful.

Miriam Schapiro - influential white American feminist artist, with Judy Chicago and Sherry Brody -- argued for the recuperation of feminine craft in art

Eva Hesse - very interesting "German-born American sculptor, known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics" and "one of a few artists who led the move from Minimalism to Postminimalism" (Wikipedia)

Question: You might not have the time/interest for this in this column, but just in case:
I'd love to read an informed Bitch Magazine discussion of issues around the
"Art vs Craft" question in Western art traditions -- and the role of women in questioning and working around/with/despite this Western binary...
For example:
- quilt making
- textile weaving
- basket weaving
- pottery
- birch bark biting (Mazinibaganjigan) - Kelly Church is one artist/practitioner
- beading/beadwork
- etc...!

Loving your suggestions! (and

Loving your suggestions! (and your fellow commitment to Canadian content, hehe)

I would definitely like to see some conversations about the art/craft divide as well! Its such a fundamental concern to feminist art history, in my opinion - and it's upsetting to see that old prejudices for more 'legitimate' forms of fine art practice (painting, sculpture, etc) over craft based work still exist today.

Another interesting theme could be art and the female body - issues over the omnipresent white female nude, the male gaze vs. artists who create alternative visions of womens' bodies (or women who perform with their bodies in different ways like Janine Antoni, Martha Rosler, Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneeman, etc)

Oh and Cindy Sherman! You can't forget Cindy Sherman (sorry I'm stopping now, must go to sleep...)

When I took Art Appreciation

When I took Art Appreciation we had to ask our professor specially to have a single woman artist included in the entire semester-long course. It was only after she passed around a form asking what things people wanted to see in a two-week gap in the class (something happened with the materials she was originally going to show us) that she decided to include women artists over a couple of classes. It was a pretty discouraging experience to know that was considered a special extra on a class that was supposed to teach about generally learning to have an eye for art. So it'll be nice to see some more stuff out there promoting women artists.

Super excited as well :)

Super excited as well :)


There are so many great women artists out there but the number that make it into course material, books or galleries is pitiful. It's always a fine line deciding whether or not to draw attention to the difference by creating a dedicated site on the topic (doesn't highlighting the difference just reinforce the marginalisation? - It's the age-old feminist dilemma!), or to raise awareness of those who have been under-represented in the past. I'm with you on this and think it's necessary to raise the profile of women artists. I run a site for and about female artists so let me know if you want to collaborate on something in the future. - Do get in touch via the email details given (or find me directly through the site

It will be interesting to see how this debate goes on. I can't see the inequality in teaching, understanding and showcasing artists being addressed any time soon so there's clearly a lot of work for us to do!

already in love with this

already in love with this blog. and its great to read about more women artists in the comments as well. would like to recommend lisa solberg, cecily brown and wangechi mutu.

Great Series!

I know you've received a number of great suggestions for artists, but I'd like to add one more: Jaune Quick-To-See Smith.

Also, I'd like to second (er - third??) the request for a series about crafting and textile arts. These, absolutely, go hand in hand with feminism and the study of feminist art.


Doh! I was totally planning on proposing this VERY TOPIC to the ladies at Bitch Media for my own blog series. Oh well, I'll have to plan for my second love: ladies of the silent screen. Best of luck, I'm looking foreward to your blog posts as well as joining into the conversation in the comments section! As a side note, when I teach Renaissance to Contemporary Art History courses, I make a point to cover at least one female artist a week. Changes to the male-dominated cannon begin in the classroom, in my opinion.

Some suggestions:

Yayoi Kusama and ideas of female artists' performance of mental illness. Many assert she does have some form of metal illnesses, however others, including myself, feel it is a performance to play into the mythology of the unstable, but brilliant, female artist.

Judith Leyster and Dutch still life paintings. You may think still lifes are boring, but hers...whew, talk about hidden layers of moral and gender critiques.

Dodo, the girlfriend of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and politics of the flapper New Woman as muse and inspiration within Die Brüke, Dada, and Surrealism.

The covers of <i>La Révolution Surréaliste</i> and the problematic fascination of women, followed by domination of women, in Surrealism. [Plus Meret Oppenheim's <i>Luncheon in Fur</i> and female Surrealists' better understanding of how to portray the Uncanny]

Finally, the lovely Baron Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. According to recent schoalrship and uncovered letters written by Marcel Duchamp, she may have been the one who created the iconic <i>The Fountain</i>, not Duchamp.

Contemporary Black Women Artists

Great topic for a blog post! This area definitely needs more exploration. Here are a couple of really cool black women artists you might consider spotlighting: Kara Walker, Renee Cox, Nina Chanel Abney, Mickalene Thomas, Wangechi Mutu, Leslie Hewitt, Xaviera Simmons, Shinique Smith, Simone Leigh, and Kenya Robinson. (Thomas and Abney are my faves from this list wink wink...)

Some Antipodean suggestions.

Australian Art history, along with much history, and much Australian history has routinely exercised the writing out of women. One of my focus areas during uni was on the re-writing of modernist art history in Australia which painted Arthurd Boyd, Albert Tucker, Sydney Nolan and their contemporaries as the initiators of modern art in Australia. Closer to the truth is that women artists such as Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith and Dorrit Black were travelling to Europe and bringing back modernism from their travels.

I've assembled a little list of some of my favourite Australian artists.

Destiny Deacon
Julie Rrap
Tracey Moffat
Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Patricia Piccinini
Janet Lawrence
Rosemary Lang
Rosalie Gascoigne
Joy Hester

Sounds so great

I'm also very very excited for this. I think someone else mentioned this but the Centre Pompidou did have an amazing exhibition, "Elles"-- which was an attempt at retelling art history using only artwork done by women. It was great and so so so refreshing after stumbling through all the male-dominated Paris museums. It is super frustrating to hear that they took it down and replaced it with the usual manly work.

I would be interested to hear what you think of this sort of approach-- that is filling up a major space of a museum with just female work in an attempt at feminist art history. Either way, I'm looking forward to the next entry!

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