KCAC Forum Magazine Winter 1993
ANOTHER VIEW: WOMEN ARTISTS
by Barbara Waterman-Peters
In the year of the woman and more than 20 years into the feminist movement, women are still confronted with not being taken seriously as artists patronized for the content of their work, and lectured to as if they were perpetual students.
Why? What is it about women’s work, formally or contextually, that is deserving of being deemed trivial? In the course of many discussions with other women artists, I have felt the
yearnings for acceptance and almost hopeless resignation to never achieving it.
Some women have realized success in the “art world.” Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Cassatt, and Gwen John comes to mind along with more contemporary names. Marcia Tucker has said, “While more women are visible now…and while the rare woman artist may even be highly visible, practice and theory – in the arts as elsewhere – have yet to meet in our century to provide the equity that might lead to real social change.” In a number of these situations these women have been single-minded, arrogant, rude, and have joined the “boy’s club. “They rarely married or had children, devoting themselves completely to their work. Fine. These were their choices.
But what about those who do not put aside family or a full life? Are they automatically disqualified as serious artists? Art critics sometimes suggest that “housewives” could not possibly have any angst and therefore have nothing to say. These interesting views could be interpreted as a denial of women’s art almost across the board! Don’t women live in the same world as men? Don’t they have pains, fears responsibilities, stresses or tragedies? Isn’t that what angst is? Don’t they have access to the same education, communications media, and stimuli? Why are their efforts not considered as “serious” (read: intellectual, heavily laden with relevant dialogue, etc.) unless they change themselves into aggressive, self-centered harridans? Are caring, involved, intelligent women somehow not committed fully? One could posit that a receptive nature might open minds to more potential, not less. Both Paula Modersohn-Becker and Barbara Hepworth believed that marriage and children enhanced their work.
Recently a male artist was decidedly uncomfortable when Judy Chicago’s work The Dinner Party (1979) came up in conversation. He did not deny the aesthetics of the piece, but argued with the artist’s use of work as a venue for her feminist and political views. He agreed that art is inherently political; however, this case is apparently an exception. Amazing isn’t it, that after all of this time the work can still elicit such a response and from a supposedly enlightened individual?
So women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t (silence implies light-weight work; protest implies aggression). These are isolated incidents, but nevertheless they are typical. One would have thought all of this was resolved, but such issues are alive and well in other areas of our society, so why not in the creative realm? It’s sad because artists are generally in the fore front of cultural change.
Even the recent Missouri Visual Artists’ Biennial provoked this statement from Sharon Brooks Katzman, “(a) strong show, yet with a lingering issue: is there not one, not one out-
standing visual artist’ in Missouri worthy of recognition and support who is
also a woman?”
Whom do we threaten? Rachel Rosenthal, a performance artist in Los Angeles, wrote an article in which she equates art and women. Fear of each is doubled with the artist woman.
According to Rosenthal the pagan (art) and the feminine are feared as uncontrolled forces. And a woman who has created life and art as well!?
This may sound like a plaintive whine, it is in fact a primal scream.
i Judith Stein, “Making Their Mark, “Making
Their Markt (New York: Abbeville Press,
Marcia Tucker, “Women Artists Today:
Revolution or Regression,” Making Their
Sharyn Brook Katzman, Missouri Visual
Artists Biennial 1991-1992,”Forum, Vol.
17.5, Fall 1992, 1
s Rachel Rosenthal,”Speakeasy,”New Art
Examiner, Dec. 1990, 15. a