Thursday, July 06, 2006

All Things Being Equal: Open Thread

I know there were some folks who wanted an open thread on artist statements, but there's been great discussion about that topic all over the art blogs recently and I don't know that I have anything much to add (see here, here, here, here, and here). Instead, this open thread will look at ways to correct the blatant inequality still prevalent in the art world. In yesterday's thread, I noted "In the end, I think being conscious of the inequality is the best anyone can ask." A few commenters very strongly disagreed with me though. For example, upon noting that I don't like the idea that curators must stop and reassess the balance of men to women artists when putting together an exhibition, This Broad noted:

I think that many exhibitions (and most of all other types of art, for that matter) can benefit from some midpoint re-assessment, both from the point of view of under/overrepresented artists as well as just what makes a good art show! The whitney biennial 06 is a prime example of one such exhibition which could have benefited from a midpoint reality-check that might well have resulted in a show with more female artists.
And AFC noted:

I think for women who are active in the field of art making, curating, and writing, this in fact is not the best anyone can ask. Like it or not, participation of any kind in the art community for a woman can not be seperated from gender politics - even if our intent is not to politize our actions in this way. Women have a responsiblity to be more than aware of gender inequality because those who are active in the community also have the best opportunities to be vocal about it. This doesn't have to mean being shrill - I think you can outline gender objectives without spelling them out to people.
But what else? The numbers don't lie. From the Greater New York exhibition to the Whitney Biennial to Europe's museums and beyond, the inequality is undeniable. I shudder at the thought of affirmative action type measures in the gallery world (I'm not even sure how to phrase what that might look like). But there are institutions that do indeed make meeting predetermined percentages part of their mission. Do such institutions impact the art world at large? I'm not sure. I imagine they must, but where's the evidence?

And what to do about education? Sitting in art history class, watching slides or hearing the professor lecture about centuries of only (or overwhelmingly mostly) men's achievements, why should women see themselves as part of that tradition? Clearly the women who overcome that lack of historical encouragement should be given medals.

And then, there's the work. And because so much of the assessment of that work is subjective, you must address how you change perceptions among the tastemakers (the collectors and powerful curators). What about the dirth of imagery of women in positions of power or powerful women in the visual arts? Oh there's
Louise and Lynda, but who else is providing the very images that will help change perceptions? Is it that such images challenge the powerbroker and tastemakers? (And, perhaps more importantly, does a powerful woman need to be a castrating threat? Are there images of powerful women that aren't seen [by me?] as such?)

Clearly the best path forward is a public relations one, systematically changing perceptions. The Guerilla Girls, the Broads, and Edna all deserve praise for their tireless efforts in this areana. And yet, I want more...what else can/should be done? I'm all ears.

22 Comments:

Anonymous nolan simon said...

OK...risking sounding ignorant, are we sure that there are an equal amount of women as men making art? Is it possible that it is as much a supply side problem as a demand side problem?

It's certainly not an issue of quality...

7/06/2006 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger This Broad said...

According to the 2000 US census, it's about 50-50 men to women who report being visual artists. The census is clearly somewhat flawed (how many working artists actually reported themselves as bartenders, or teachers, or whatever, because that is the activity they engaged in the most hours per week, which is what the census asks?) but it's hard to say how its flaws would affect the gender balance.

My initial answer to your question, Ed, is that you are providing a great model of doing exactly what needs to be done. Self-examination + public forums on the subject which helps keep it alive in people's minds.

PS I am bummed that you are not allowing comments on your 'bitter and disgusted' thread above, because it might make us all feel a little better to hear from all the other people who share your bitterness and disgust. I was so angry I started to cry here at work when I heard brian lehrer announce the decision this morning on wnyc. It will happen though, and I don't think it's gonna take 20 more years. The tide is turning on this and the conservatives know it. Please don't leave!!

7/06/2006 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I am certainly not going to dispute the fact that women are underrepresented in the art world, at least the art world including major museums, and galleries in NYC, and in other large cities.

However, I really would like to make the point that there is another section of the arts, that includes smaller galleries, nonprofit organizations and regional art communities where women are as equally represented as men are, at least in my experience.

I won't deny that I would love to be showing in NYC or be in a museum someday. But I wouldn't want it to happen because someone says that a gallery or museum has to show a certain percentage of female artists and I qualify because of that, not because of my work.

I do wonder also if there are as many women trying to show their work. Ed, do as many women as men submit their work to your gallery?

7/06/2006 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ed, do as many women as men submit their work to your gallery?

I'd say it's about equal. At least it's not noticeably more one than the other.

PS...thanks for the comment This Broad. I turned comments on for that post.

7/06/2006 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Heather Lowe said...

I have a funny story. About seven years ago I went to the house of a great African-American curator who worked at LACMA to show my paintings. I was at the time doing some abstracts about the Ivory Coast. He looked at my stuff and liked them, was a little suspicious of me for some reason, and said, "It must be very hard to be a white women in the art world today." I about died (was so naive then) and didn't know what to say...
I had never even considered the idea---just wanted to paint--so I told him.
But it is great when you are naive and oblivious to the politics of the day.

7/06/2006 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

There was a long and bitter discussion on Edna's blog along these lines a couple of months back. I got involved a little too much and people got upset. I quoted Camille Paglia, which may have been a mistake.

I think women are catching up. I have no numbers to support this, but I have to think -- especially if you're talking about European museums and collections -- there have been so many, many years of male art, women aren't going to be fifty-fifty for a long time, even if female artists outnumber males (which they don't, of course).

I personally think the solution is, really, to be as gender-blind as possible. Concentrate on the work. But I'm not steadfast in my assertion; I understand that the real world is complex.

My wife is very successful in a field much more male-dominated than art is today. When we met in college, the student ratio was 14 to 1 male to female. She's successful not because she's a woman, or in spite of being a woman; she's successful because she doesn't think about gender at all. She is frequently asked to join those "Women In..." groups and she always avoids them and their members, because she thinks that gender is irrelevant.

I'm very proud of her. More people should be like that.

7/06/2006 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

I sometimes curate and always try to do the unexpected - shows about architecture are predominantly female, slows about the organic are predominantly male. That sort of thing. Many of my referals for studio visits come from artists. What I've observed is that men recommend other men but women recommend both men and women. Of course this isn't 100% but it is often enough that I've noticed.

Fortunately (??) collectors don't seem to be as concerned with gender as they are with age.

7/06/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Fortunately (??) collectors don't seem to be as concerned with gender as they are with age.

Definitely good news for young women.

7/06/2006 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous lim said...

For what it's worth, and admittedly it's not much, I don't care at all about the gender of the artist when looking at work. This brings up a question which I'm curious to hear others' opinions about. Are there inherent differences in work made by a man or a woman? (I don't think so - as in any gender identified differences, the difference between women or between men are usually greater than diferences between men and women) And if not, what is the point of striving for equity other than balancing the numbers? I mean specifically in a curated show, for example, not in the larger sense of fairness for all - which the art world is not about anyway, nor should it be.

7/06/2006 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

does a powerful woman need to be a castrating threat?

Darling! What a notion. A truly powerful woman is anything but.

And yet, I want more...what else can/should be done? I'm all ears.

First of all, I believe that the onus lies on women themselves to own our power, and not see it as something bestowed by men, or by the establishment at large. This includes examining the types and qualities of power we have which are uniquely ours, and playing to our strengths.

Second, we need to jettison this notion that we are 'victims' who need special treatment, either by those in positions of perceived power or by each other. This is off-putting and divisive, and leads to such loathesome notions as women's co-operative galleries, which keep female artists on permanently low-priced and underreported career tracks.

Third, we should observe the methods which successful men use in order to advance and stabilize their careers--which include being supportive of other artists, instead of attempting to sabotage and conceal the perceived competition. Sadly, I have known all too many female artists who actively scuttled the chances for exposure of their talented friends or students, fearing that there was room for only one woman at the top. This is disgraceful, and artists who do this sort of thing should be loudly and overtly exposed and ridiculed for it.

Lastly, what can enlightened men such as you, Edward, do about it? Just keep on being your delightful self, of course. Being aware of one's own potential biases is the first step toward correcting them.

7/06/2006 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I adore PrettyLady...you must visit her website if you haven't already....

e_

7/06/2006 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Thank you, dear Edward, I am an enormous fan of yours, as well!

7/06/2006 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

PrettyLady, I'm not trying to contradict you, but I have to say that I have yet to come across a woman artist who undermined other women artists. Maybe I've just been lucky, but much of what has come my way in my own career has been because of other women artists passing my name on to a curator, critic, etc. In fact, there are many excellent networks of women artists who are intensely conscious about what we must do for each other, because so much of what happens in the art world is through the Old Boys Network, and we simply have to start networking for and amongst ourselves.

7/06/2006 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Maybe I've just been lucky, but much of what has come my way in my own career has been because of other women artists passing my name on to a curator, critic, etc.

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I have both male and female friends who are artists, and have both recommended and been recommended by them to galleries, curators, etc. It's never even occurred to me to think about their genders with regard to this. It just happens because we like each other's work, and see an opportunity to help a friend.

7/06/2006 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

I think they should be kept barefoot and pregnant for a few hundred more years.........
but maybe this time....let the men be the ones who are barefoot and pregnant......you know......just for a change.
PS...they have actually been doing research on males carrying fetuses ( the equivalent of dear Mary's Immaculate conception coupled with the accidental exothermic pregnancies women experience occasionally)

7/06/2006 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I have to say that I have yet to come across a woman artist who undermined other women artists. Maybe I've just been lucky

Yes, indeed you have, or perhaps you simply have better judgement than I do. I could tell you horror stories. However, I believe I have succeeded in forcibly eradicating these people from my life, at long last, and look forward to a long career of trusting people once again.

7/06/2006 05:06:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

Artists are like academics - we say we are above prejudice, but.....

I've had some doozy experiences with artists, teachers and curators who were women but I can say the same of men. Let's face it: this is not a nice profession.

So, Prettylady, if you really want to trust people again, I have a bridge to sell you.

7/06/2006 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

if you really want to trust people again, I have a bridge to sell you

I know someone who will sell it to you for half price, and throw in a stretch of the Santa Monica Freeway for free.

I don't get the sense that she's saying she'll trust everybody, but that she's learned to be more discerning about who's trustworthy and who isn't. Seems like a good skill to develop. I have three categories myself: the people I've learned I can trust, the people I've learned I can't trust, and everybody else. Not everyone gets invited over for dinner.

7/06/2006 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish Edna would resurrect herself. i feel bereft.

7/07/2006 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous eva said...

It starts way before formal education and it never ends. To be an artist 'successfully' takes having determination and drive and an ego. These very things which help insure an art career are still considered 'unseemly' in a female, while widely appreciated in a male. Sometimes just to have a very strong, condidered opinion means you're a bitch..

.. and yet great art comes from a strong and considered stance. Until we are comfortable with a woman with ideas, power and her own agenda (just like a man can take for granted) - on a day to day basis - the whole situation will stay unbalanced.

7/08/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Politics is at least 50% of every social transaction.

Political Correctness involves its own forms of discrimination.

There will always be losers.

Every ideology is misguided part of the time.

7/08/2006 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the statistical accounting of the Guerilla Girls, the interest in quotas, is the wrong approach. Maybe what we really ought to be asking ourselves is why there are not more heroic female artists in the general canon. What I am talking about are titans, figures who change the direction of the discourse and function as guideposts. Those figures who show the way for others and whose absence from any history would make that history incomplete.

Maya Deren in my opinion is one of those rare female examples of this. She is absolutely essential to the history of experimental film in the United States. Any history that excluded her would be incomplete and wrong and I would be suspicious of every other assertion made by any historian who exclude her.

7/10/2006 10:26:00 AM  

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