Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Women in Art (post for Thursday 19 June)

I did not grow up around art. I grew up doing things like sewing, snapping beans, cooking, freezing and canning food from the garden, hanging clothes on the line and taking care of my baby sister. Sometimes I would drive the tractor, but that was usually the responsibility of my other sister. In my spare time, I would read. I think I read almost every book in my elementary school library. In the summer, Mom would take us to meet the bookmobile if we were able to get all of our work done and she was not at work. While I was doing these things, I had a lot of time to think. I would think about what it would be like to live a life where I could read or sew a lot…you know, I could write things or make practical items for people who could not or wouldn't sew. But my little girl self only knew of one of our local legends in art, Grandma Moses (1860-1961). Our school did not provide much in the way of art education. We had the obligatory art class once a month where we were given a sheet of newsprint and some crayons and told to draw something. If it was not a good representation, then we were subject to the paper being held up to be laughed at. Most kids came to the point where they hated art.

Joan Mitchell "Land" 1989 oil on canvas

Then I went to high school. Taking art class was not something “normal” people did, and appearing normal was important in being accepted in my community. I remember there was one girl who took a lot of art –she and her family did not care what people thought of her– and I used to adore looking at her paintings. She was really cool and would talk to me about the art she was making, too. That was my first introduction to anything really artistic, but I never thought I could do anything like that. Today, I understand that girl does not paint at all.

Lee Krasner

But when I went to Va Tech (the university I attended which has probably become famous for all the wrong reasons now), the art world opened up for me. I met this great student on my dorm floor who was an interior design student. She was great encouragement for me and remains great encouragement to this very day (she has been my best friend for 32 years now). Because I changed my major and was so drawn to the creative I took some art appreciation and art history courses…there I was introduced to the American Abstract Expressionist. I fell in love…yup! Total love!

Joan Mitchell "Piano Mecanique" 1958 oil on canvas

Then lots of things happened called life, but my daughter became interested in women writers and started encouraging me to explore women painters. I fell in love all over again…How come they did not share the likes of Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984) and Joan Mitchell (1925 – 1992) with us in Art History? Uh? We only heard a little tiny bit about Anni Albers (1899 – 1994). Maybe that is because she worked with fibers and that was okay for a woman or was not as much competition for other artists.

Lee Krasner

Most of the people who comment on this blog are women…although that has nothing to do with this post. But here is what I am wondering, do you think male artist approach their art in a different way than women artists? I do think so and that may be why I do not know of any regular male readers here. Do we want different things from the process? I think that is a possibility. Do you have an interest in women in art? I do because they were left out of my earlier studies and they have played an important part of art, if for not other reason than they supported a lot of the famous men. Do you think it influences the work you do? Probably not very much, I just think it is interesting.


Katiejane said...

I'm not sure how to answer all the questions you posed. As you know, I was brought up with lots of art all around me. Both my mother and father were heavily into art. I took all the art classes offered in elementary and high school, and in my later high school years, watched John Gnagy and Bob Ross on TV for further instruction.

I don't think I ever even considered that there was a difference between male and female artists when I was young. It was just ART to me, didn't matter what sex. I guess I still feel that way.

I always thought men nowadays weren't as serious about their art as women. I mostly see female art out and about around here, but I guess throughout history, artists were mostly men.

Good questions.....

Andrea and Kim said...

Thanks Kate...I think you are right, and our growing up experiences were very different.

I think it is interesting you don't think men now are as serious about their art. I had not thought of it that way. I know there are several writers about art who have said men tend to "think about their art" where women tend to "work from an emotional place". Maybe we just don't understand the other's approach.

Good thinking, Kate...thanks!

Andrea and Kim said...

...and Kate, where would I be if you were not here to spur me on?


Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I grew up with a mother who upon graduation was serious about being a painter prepared by a diploma in art from the University of California, Berkeley in 1937. She continued to paint for a few months. She kept a 1938 article about Carmen Frida Kalo, "Rise of another Rivera" by Bertram D. Wolfe. As the title suggests Frida was not considered as fully as being an artist. On the back of the magazine article is a fashion drawing. Mother for what ever reason quit painting and started to create original fashion dolls. She would have loved it if I had folowed her in doll making. Painting is more expressive to me. I grew up with a framed calendar reproduction of Diego Rivera's "Flower Carrier". So I wanted to paint like a man, paintings with social content when I was studying painting in the early 60's. Now I am painting with several directions. One is to make work that will be healing. Another is making art that will be a journal of my spirit and journey. And I paint to make connections that I become aware of in the process of painting.

Paula In Pinetop said...

I've never given the idea of women and art much thought, but I'm thinking about it NOW !!!! You've written a very interesting post here.

Here in New Mexico we have the fabulous Georgia O'Keefe ~ now *that* was some talented gal !!!!

As a child art was my favorite activity. There was a kids TV show that featured a person who would take just a simple mark on paper and create a cool image from it, that always had me totally amazed. I was always trying to exercise my creative muscle. My earlies memory is of seeing one of those round oatmeal boxes and thinking "this is really cool and I would like to make something with it".

Of course, my family did not encourage my art. They had no idea who I was or what interested me. They encouraged nothing. Their thoughts on education were "you don't need an education to change diapers". So everything I've done and have has been totally self motivated. I think there are a lot of women out there like me, we just don't talk about it much. I wasn't rich but certainly poor either. I lived in a comfortable house with food on the table and shoes on my feet. My family was just checked out. I don't get the attention of the inner city deprived woman so I slip through the cracks.

I've learned the only way to make it in this world is on my own and it took too many years to figure "that" out so I'm quite a late bloomer.

Women are interesting but I don't think they are really much different than men. I think men get different attention because we have all been conditioned to think of them differently. Yes, there are some fundamental differences of course, but at the end of the day they are just as vulnerable as womens.

Wow, you've really sparked some thoughts here. I don't usually post such lengthy comments. I hope it is ok.

Not sure what this all has to do with art, but hey, a girl has to just get it all out once in awhile.

Love you madly, sugar cube. Have a great day !!!!!!!!

~Babs said...

I love all these lady painters you've featured here!
I've never given serious thought to gender specific painters,,,other than the realization of how few really 'important' ones there were back in 'the day'.
I don't personally know many men painters,,,so haven't any answer to your very interesting question.

sukipoet said...

Great post Kim. I have always love Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner. Oddly it is the Albers woman I don't know although was she married to the him Albers?

At some point I realized ditto your thoughts about women re: writing. In high school they mentioned Emily Dickinson and E STV Millay and George Eliot and college was little better. I took it upon myself to educate myself and read all the women authors I could, with special fascination with obscure authors. I also love to find obscure women aritists. I imagine women do work differently than men, men often with much more support for their work. And even today I imagine many women artists are overlooked.

Do you think this is true of women in just about any field? Our voices are louder now but sometimes we have to strain like Hilary did, her voice so strained sometimes in order to be heard. Interesting topic.

sukipoet said...

ooops I should have read the Albers link before asking my question abt Josef albers. Yep. interesting story.

Anonymous said...

The only paintings I ever saw while I was growing up were done by other children. It's taken me many years to feel like I've caught up, and it's been other women artists that have inspired me. Not because of the work they produce, it's more to do with the way they lead their lives and the ones that have combined art with motherhood have had a particular interest for me. It's shown me that it's possible to do it.

Andrea and Kim said...

Hi Paula...

No, you don't have to worry about lengthy comments problem with me. I am really glad you like the post and it has you thinking about this subject.

Georgia was probably one of those women artists who crashed that glass ceiling for women. She not only did what she wanted, how she wanted to do it and when she wanted it done. She didn't let much of anything get in her way, either. Georgia mainly had men working for her!!! You are right she was and remains fabulous.

I do not remember those tv shows as a child, however we were not tv watchers as children, either. I do remember making drums out of those oatmeal boxes, though. :)

It was true when I was little and it remains true today that my family doesn't understand me very well, at all. They love me, but I make them very uncomfortable...I know that and it is just fine. Women in my family end up working in some way in the medical field. Art and design and the need to completely understand (to the point of asking endless questions and challenging professionals in various fields), I am sure embarrasses them. So like you, I have felt my own way along my own path...but it is also the way I work best. :)

You know, I think you are right it really comes down to how we are all socialized that makes the difference, not that we really are different. There is a lot of psychology wrapped up in all of this, isn't it?

Well, I think sometimes it pays to think about from where we come and what struggles have happened in order to know where we are going. I think it is also important to say here that in living in both the western US and the eastern US, there is a vast difference in how women are viewed by the general public...I think it is a far more even playing field in the west. My personal opinion.

I think the world of you, too, Paula!

Andrea and Kim said...

Babs! You are the greatest! You know, as I said to Paula...I feel in the western US women play on a more even field than they do in the eastern US...must be something to do with how this country was settled... :)

You are great! Thank You!

~Babs said...

Oh, and I forgot to say how much your bookmobile comemnt affected me, lol!
My sis & I used to walk almost a mile to where it parked at the 'general store' in the summer.We lived 'out',,,,and there were very few kids that came. I remember you could only take 5 books, and I always looked for really big ones, that would last longer,,,,and always had gobbled them up way before they came again in 2 weeks.It was THE biggest treat of the summer! Thanks for the memories, Kim!

Andrea and Kim said...

Suki, I am glad you found out Anni was married to Josef.

In so many places, women have struggled to have their voice heard. Clearly you understand women writers wrote as men for sometime or gave men their material which was published by the men. Art was similar in that women had to learn themselves or be friendly (sister, wife) of an artist to learn from someone schools would take them. But women are good at learning themselves...because I think we are excellent, in general, at listening to our intuition, we don't need to be told what we probably already know.

I hope things are changing and think in some profession that is big business. But the thing with artists is we would rather produce than get into the business end of things. :)

But I also think so much of it depends on how we have been socialized...think of how (historically) little girls are raised as opposed to little boys. It take time to make a change, but I think we are leveling things is slow, but sure.

Women can make a loud noise when it is something which matters to them...and maybe that is what it is about, we have other things which matter more.

Andrea and Kim said...

Oh Jess, you bring up some wonderful thoughts here. The way women lead their lives as being important...if we could only consider that as a historical importance. I love the idea of looking at the relationship of art in that way.

I also like the idea of exploring the relationship of being a mother with being an artist and how the two very creative professions intertwine!

Thanks always give me so much to think through!

Paula In Pinetop said...

This has been a really GOOD post of ideas.

Thanks, I've enjoyed coming back to see what everyone had to say.

Andrea and Kim said...

No matter what, Diane, you grew up in a creatively rich home...and that is very cool. I think many parents have grand ideas their children will follow them in their chosen career paths and loves.

So your reasons for making art have changed as you have grown with the process and matured. I think that is a sure sign of an aware artist. You will be completely horrified to know I had never heard of Frida until my daughter introduced me to her!

I am sure your awareness, if nothing else, has had a great impact on your work.

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting here. I really appreciate it a lot.

Andrea and Kim said...


I have to apologize for not allowing posts to appear instantly, but there are some out there who think they can come in here, try to sell you things or say things which are inappropriate. So I made the decision to allow posts after I have read them....and some of those have slipped through while I was learning what to look for.... Of course, the problem is you all can't have a conversation when I am not here to moderate the comments. In the long run, I feel it is more comfortable for everyone this way.

I am glad you are enjoying this topic. It is fun...

Thanks Paula and thanks for returning.

Anonymous said...

UMASS in Amherst, which I attended 1976-1980, had a wonderful course, "Women in Art". The class covered female artists of the past and contemporary women artists, like performance artist Laurie Anderson. One male was in the class, odd thing, he dropped the course.

sukipoet said...

Hi Kim, I returned too as when I wrote my comment I hadn't read all the others plus now there are more, each one insightful and interesting.

Thanks to you for sharing some of your upbringing. I know you grew up on a farm. It is interesting how you feel you are so different from your family. I felt that way for years and still do. I have just gone,experientially, in a different and hopefully more cheerful direction. Though I can see many life habits that came from my family (I mean now i can see them, for years I refused to see them.)

I think your sharing your history in the post opened others to share bits of theirs which are quite fascinating. My family was somewhat art aware and Dad took me to art museums like the Yale Art Museum and NY museums as we lived nearby. My folks had art on their walls though often not things I'd ever have on my walls. They bought me oil paints and encouraged my creativity all through my life, being very supportive even though at the same time they seemed to not understand me and want me to be different. It is only in her 89th and 90th year that my mom has stopped berating me for the choices in my life. Is she accepting or giving up? At any rate it makes her easier to be around.

For me it is important to have a sense of a) art history and b) the history of women as artists and also in other areas in the world. But I couldn't tell you why.

I agree with what Jess said too, women as mothers making a place for themselves in the world. One of my dreams was to have a little art colony and it would be for women who are mothers to come and have peaceful time to create away from their duties.

Be well, and thanks for a great post. Suki

Andrea and Kim said...

That is great Chewy! I attended university at the same time, but different school/different place.

Funny about the lone male student...maybe he didn't want to be the lone male in a class talking about women, too! I can see where that might be a challenge.

Andrea and Kim said...

Hi Suki,

I am glad you have returned.

I know I am very different from my family in many, many ways. But that is okay, too. We all come into each other's lives for a reason. It is okay to be different...I rather like it day to day. It was more difficult when my children were little.

I am glad it helped to share some of my history here. I am often reluctant to do that being a private person and unsure of how comfortable or uncomfortable I will make readers. As I get older, it seems to be less of an issue, though. ....guess I don't have so much to loose any more :) I quite sure my family would have loved me to do something they understood better, but they do not say that. I find I create the balance in life. You know? But when people try to share only the negatives, it is difficult to be around them.

I completely understand what you mean about the need to understand the history (or herstory) of women in art being important in understanding from where we come and where we are least that is the way I see history now (clearly it wasn't that way early on). Also understanding helps us to learn from their experiences as artists AND women.

Oh now wouldn't an art colony for artists who are mothers be wonderful? But I think, for me, it would have also been my children were so connected to me. One of the reasons I can do this work I am doing is because my husband is the one who brings home the living for us all...I am very lucky in that way. Maybe what we need to do now is collect information as to what it means to be Mothers AND Artists! Don't you think the internet has opened this up a bit for us?

Thanks Suki for being so interesting and so interested! You always push me to think beyond...and I love that!

Lynette said...

It's funny the things that are expected of us just because we were born women. At least times are finally changing some and women aren't only expected to cook, clean and change diapers. I knew from the time I was a kid I wanted to be an artist and never even thought about the fact of my gender or that it would hold me back from my dream. I say more power to us women in the arts, we know that we have to make art but we can still do those other things too! :) We're great at multi-tasking!

Andrea and Kim said...

You said it, Lynette!

I think the same is true for men, though...that it is strange things are expected of them because they are men...glad that is changing too. Finally we are beginning to see a balance.

Keeping your focus throughout childhood, now that is the challenge, don't you think?

Thanks Lynette....I always love to hear what you have to say and how you relate it to the meaning in your own live...

brett said...

Very nice work.

Andrea and Kim said...

Thank you, Brett!

I will visit your blog soon!