“Female” Artists or Just Artists?
“I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.”
– Louise Bourgeois
When we think “art”, we think Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, the list continues. What’s the common denominator between these artists, aside from their ingenuity of course? They are all men. As a woman writing this, I have to say, that’s a little disconcerting! When was the last time we heard of a female artist being revered? Who is the biggest female artist you can think of from the top of your head? The only one that comes to mind is Frida Kahlo, no one else (and that’s after some serious thought!). Why, you ask? Because the discipline of art has repeatedly and continuously considered women’s contribution as either non-existent or second-rate to those of men – let’s not even get into the realness of plagiarism in the creative world (whether it’s art of writing). It wasn’t until the 20th century that feminism rooted its presence and began to reframe the discipline. Women in history did not enjoy the same rights as men, a fact which stemmed even to art. Even today, they are segregated from men and are referred to as “female artists”, not “artists”. While male artists were given the freedom to explore their creativity and artistic voice, female artists were not taken seriously and weren’t awarded the proper education and resources to pursue their talents. Women have contributed to art in countless ways, be it as creators, patrons, collectors, or contributors and today, it’s imperative to note that.
Like all other kinds of obstacles, women overcame the divide in the art discipline and the world was presented with notable female artists throughout history! One of the first women to break the mold was Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625) who refused to let the constraints of her time hold her back from traveling across Europe and studying from famous painters. Her forte was portrait painting – mostly self-portraits, so much so that King Philip II appointed her the official court painter (female empowerment all the way!). Her style was described as charming and delicate but while she may not have been a trailblazer when it came to art innovation, she certainly was one when it came to proving that female artists could be just as successful as their male counterparts if they were just given the equal opportunity, based on talent rather than gender (a statement that echoes just as strongly today and across not just the art industry).
It is important to note that the narrative is now shifting in favor of “female” artists, in all areas of art – better late than never! The Turner Prize, an annual prize presented to a British visual artist, has seen a 44% increase in female representation over the last decade. Both galleries and museums are making a conscious effort to feature women-themed exhibits to revive the careers of unfairly neglected artists. There have even been arguments in favor of the label “woman artists”, reasoning that the separation may in fact help their case. A 122-year-old non-profit gallery in New York, Pen and Brush stated that “showing work by women exclusively is a way to get right at the heart of the stereotype that there’s just not enough good work by women. People come into our gallery where there is no obvious indication that all the work is by women. They read the information cards. They’re surprised. They buy.”
That said, we encourage you to check out Four You Gallery’s “It’s All Relative” online exhibition, a group show of five early-career to mid-career female artists! Because now more than ever, women all over the world (not just in art) need to be given the right platform, the right encouragement, and the right community to empower them to use their voice; the voice they’ve had all along.