Art, Feminism, Art Feminism, I'm An Artist
When I was at university one of my tutors once said to me,
"You must be a feminist because you want to be an artist"
at which point, I gave her a piercing look and replied with a short "No", and then most promptly threw a strop and avoided her for a whole semester. I've never forgotten this statement made to me and today it plays on my mind. If we look back into art history, names that are recognisable as being part of big art movements are mostly, (and if looking at pre-1920's entirely) all male, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Manet, Picasso, Duchamp.
Is this because Women's Right had not completely kicked off yet? Feminism really got it's shit together in the 1960's. Previous to this women were the subject of art, not the makers. When Feminism went big, suddenly female artists did too, and their art related the changing movements in Feminism, Guerrilla Girls established in 1985 explored the gender inequality in art galleries and museums. Guerrilla Girls were intwined with Feminism and the continue to do so, growing all the time and still fighting for equality in the arts. Cindy Sherman also combatted identity in her works, and how we relate to women. Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sarah Lucas could all be defined by the term 'Feminist Artists', they combat our pre-conceptions of what it is to be female in a male dominated world.
Often when critics begin to critic female artists and their works, gender, and identity is spoken about, feminist theory rears it's head. Nancy Burns, professor of political science at U of Michigan put it excellently when she said
"It's really a problem to set up a list of artists that are 'feminist' when the only thing all of them share is a vagina - these kind of assumptions of lumping women together simply because they're women is everything that's wrong with feminist thinking today. This is also why the Guerrilla Girls' bedside companion is terrible. Most pages simply state whether or not an artist is a lesbian - what does her sex life have to do with her art? Why all biography and no substantive analysis of their actual work? Also there are many male artists that would call themselves feminist artists. Are they not allowed to care about gender issues because they have penis?"
Obviously I don't agree with all of the quote, but there are things that Burn has said in the above that are widespread. Often when I research an artist, if the artist is female I end up reading more of a biography about her and her works than if she was a he. Male artists and their critics have more academic writings.
I don't believe the work I make has much to do with feminism, when I create artworks I think of thoughts, feelings, materials and my message. I'm not out to combat women's rights in my artworks, thats not what it's for, for me, but it sobers me to know someone will look at the work at some point through feminist theory art.
I am a female artist, I must be a feminist.
Not quite, I am a female working in a male dominated space. So often the curators I speak to, are male, the artists I exhibit with, are male (apart from the Telling Stories 2 show, that was predominantly female). The 15 most successful artists? 1 is female.
Maybe I should be angry about this, maybe I should try to change it, even at a grassroots level and never take inspiration from a male artist again, or work with a male in the artworld, but that would be cutting my nose off to spite my face. I enjoy working with males and females in the art world, I believe there is space for us both. I believe that the gender inequality in the artworld will change, along with gender equality everywhere, as it did in the 1960s.
The world changes, slowly and there are inspiring people, women and men, making feminist works, that are challenging the establishment. In the meantime, I'll go softly and path my own way forward.