Archive for the 'Thoughts and reflections' Category

Who does she think she is?

Thanks to a “related entry” on my blog I stumbled across a new film exploring the relationship between motherhood and art Who does she think she is?. I am very glad that people are tackling this subject, and I would strongly recommend you at least check out the trailer (as if you are in the UK, screenings are primarily in Canada and the USA and thus difficult to attend). I hope that the film lives up to its strong message and mission statement.

I have discussed already the difficulties faced by women, but motherhood and family responsibilities is one that I have yet come across on the course. Whilst some women who are artists have the difficulty of being placed in the background of their husband’s show, many more face the difficulty of choosing between their relationships and their art (a problem that is widely spread throughout the world- should mothers[women] have careers?)

I believe it takes alot of strength to put oneself out there as an artist, especially if the artist is a woman as that already gives you an “underdog” status. Whilst it may be considered an old-fashioned and outdated thought, the value that a women puts her family before her career is one that is commonly held, often by women themselves. Whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be a mother (especially as we are more readily given the choice of different options now), to have both a career and a family does pose many difficulties.  In the past,women who chose to follow their careers, as this film’s trailer illustrates, were not mothers,and often not wives.

What we really ought to question now is, in a society which claims women can have both, how do women cope with this? In this economy of choice, are we now pulled in so many directions that we cannot achieve anything of merit? Must we resign ourselves to being that jack-of-all-trades and master of none?

The disappearing art of the tomboy

I read an interesting article about the ‘tomboy’ a couple of months ago, and found myself struggling to think of one I might personally know. I used to *try to* be one myself, when younger, as have both my sisters at various points, but none of us got along particularly well.

I was never a popular child and my own quirks combined with the tendency towards football and yo-yos rather than dolls and pink, made me feel like an outsider from the age of about five. One of my younger sisters has suffered at the hands of various bullies for years, which originally started when she was a tomboy-ish girl in primary school. She later went on to call my littlest sister “odd” or “weird” for some of her boyish tendencies (though this is partially due to her inability to see the appeal of football).

But what is perhaps more interesting about the tomboy than its disappearance is its conception. Whilst it appears to defy gender categorisation, the term tomboy encourages it through the assumptions it makes about typical feminine and masculine behaviour. Whilst I am more than happy for girls to prefer running about and climbing trees to playing ‘mother’ with baby dolls and brushing the hair of barbies, perhaps what we ought to consider is why we feel the need to give these girls a different name to their contemporaries because of this.

Why have there been no great women artists?

If someone asked you to name 5 women artists, you’d struggle, right? I probably would too (and I’m a female fine art student!). But why is this?

Well, to begin with, let us think about how male-dominated the art world is (as my post on women’s gains illustrates) and which artists get a lot of press (for example: Damien Hirst, and fairly recently Rothko and others who have had major retrospectives) The fact is that, for whatever reason, we associate great works with men. Is there a fundamental difference between men and women’s artwork? And if there isn’t, why is it that the famous and/or great artists are all male?

One article that aims to address this matter is Linda Nochlin’s Why have there been no great women artists?

Whilst many writers have strived to give certain artists who are women their due, Nochlin feels this tries to rectify the imbalance whilst failing to answer why this is such a vital question, and cannot therefore be a sufficient response. To argue the case for women within a canon that is written by and includes predominantly white males cannot be a move towards a long-lasting change. Similarly, we cannot begin to include gay, transgender, black, Hispanic (and so forth) artists when the viewpoint of art history as a discipline is so narrow.

Another typical response is for the feminist to argue that there is a different kind of greatness to women’s art- a ‘distinctive and recognisable feminine style’. Whilst Nochlin understands the reasoning behind this (women’s’ place in and experience of society is undoubtedly different to men’s), she quite rightly points out that it is a rather big stretch to incorporate such a large and diverse group of artworks and artists under an umbrella term of ’feminine’. Not least because the idea of ‘feminine’ in itself is incredibly problematic. For example, traditional feminine values may include characteristics such as delicacy and introversion. By all means try to apply these to every women artist, but I don’t think people would commonly call Tracey Emin delicate (for example, no slur intended!)

‘The problem lies not so much with the feminist’s concept of what femininity in art is, but rather with the misconception of what art is: with the naive idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience- a translation of personal life into visual terms’ (p.5)

Nochlin does not think “great art” is ever this. However, as artists we cannot escape our own experience of the world, so personally there is always an extent to which ones work will be personal and reflect our own individual experience (though emotions are often strictly cut for fear of the sentimental)

Another problem with Nochlin’s argument is whilst she urges us to transcend the male canon; she endorses it purely by using the term “great art”. Whilst she discusses the myth of the Great (male) artist she does not discuss great art in detail. Art that is referred to as “great” is by and large male, therefore “male” and “great” could be seen bound together, and “great” and “female” could be seen to be mutually exclusive terms.

Other areas Nochlin discusses are social class, ethnicity and the nude. Her main conclusion is that ideally, we want to move on to a time in which all artists are on equal starting points and thus there will be little need to have labels such as “female artist”.

[This is by no means an in-depth discussion of her text, but hopefully it will highlight areas for exploration and discussion]

Understanding gender

Gender is often seen purely as a binary category distinction between male and female- i.e.: what sex you are. But it is also regarded by some as a social construction of meaning which has effects to do with power. This means that gender studies can be applied to many different contexts and persons- it is not only about discrimination against women, but also discrimination against races, cultures, sexual orientations, religions etc.

Women’s gains (or lack thereof) in the art world

In the lecture for this week, we were told how, of Art Review magazine’s 2008 power 100 list, there were only three artists who are women- Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Marlene Dumas. It is an increasingly worrying statistic for those young women, like myself, studying fine art (especially as the amount of women attending these courses always vastly outnumber the amount of men) This was of course an exercise to alert us to the continued relevance of feminist study, as often we take for granted that the world has irrevocably changed and that women are now on an equal footing with men. It feels like women are fated from the start to be less than their male contemporaries when this is still the case of things.

[I cannot help but wonder at those who commented on the Telegraph site (the link I provided), as they seem to find little (or, more likely, no) enjoyment in modern art, and thus I fail to see how they thought their comments were adding to our understanding. Whilst it is perfectly valid to hold such opinions, I feel that the comments should be more relevant to the subject matter- a discussion of the people included, the people left off, and maybe even how relevant such a list is.]