Monday, March 20, 2006
For more information on women artists...
I wish I could have seen the special, but doubt I could add more to Carter Ann's astute analysis - however, from my background (once upon a time, I was a history of art and women's studies major!), I will add a bit of context.
The issue with "women artists" is much more complicated than people generally think, because there are two parts to the inclusion of women in the art world; the first is the introduction of women to the canon, or the re-writing of art history to include fabulous women artists who were generally overlooked. There are many of these: Artemisia Gentileschi (one of my favorites), Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Judith Leyster, Ellen Day Hale...and then there are contemporary artists, feminist artists, and those doing unbelievable things with modern art. Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Jenny Holzer - all wonderful, provacative, and brilliantly feminist (although each would surely have her own definition of the word). This website is a great resource if you'd like to know or see more.
However, adding women in to the canon while important and relevant (Jansen's History of Art, which is THE canon in the opinion of some, was very recently edited and revised to include some of those women previously left out), it's not the full answer to the question answered by Linda Nochlin, "Why are there no great woman artists?" Women were denied the right or means to make art for most of history - they weren't allowed into art schools, they couldn't view nudes to practice on (and thus were limited to genre, portrait, landscape and still life paintings, denied the prestige reserved for history painters), or their work, if they were actually able to create it, wasn't taken seriously. Or, if they found themselves in relationships with male artists, were overshadowed or overtaken by their counterparts (a perfect example of this is Camille Claudel, who you've probably never heard of - but you most likely have heard of her famous lover Rodin. Claudel was a talented sculptor in her own right, but also posed for Rodin - as he produced more and more, she had less and less time to do her own work.
If Emin's presentation had done what Carter Ann expected it to, it would have shown that even today, those systematic differences are still just as prevalent as they were before. There are issues that face women who produce art today, to be sure, even though at the very least they are allowed to produce. But to look purely at the market, I leave you with the case of The Young Woman Drawing (at left) from 1801.
Bequeathed to the Met nearly a century ago, the painting was originally attributed to David, the famous French painter. The Met was congratulated on such an exquisite acquisition, saying the painting was "was typical of David's exquisite handling of light and delicate textures, his composition, sense of space, Classical elegance, and restraint." Eventually though, it was revealed that it was not David but (shock! horror!) a woman, Marie-Denise Villers, who painted the work, perhaps as a self-portrait. Once the attribution changed, the critics attacked what they deemed weaknesses in the painting, noting that the proporations from waist to knee were "not quite right" and "the artist had placed the woman's technically difficult drawing hand down at her side to avoid having to render it." I actually believe (and correct me if I am wrong), that the Met removed the painting for a spell. Now it is prominently on display - but the tale of Villers serves as a reminder that even today, women artists face immense difficulties competing in a man's world.
I heart the Guerilla Girls