Visual Arts

The Feminine Artistique: Women Artists in Utah’s Art World

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published on February 25, 1963. Though controversial at the time, in 2010, I hope we all agree with Friedan’s sentiment that, “It is ridiculous to tell girls to be quiet when they enter a new field, or an old one, so the men will not notice they are there.”

For millennia, women were excluded from formal art schooling – from ancient times until (in most places) the late 19th century. A few notable exceptions in history, from Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) to Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), were inducted into the art-making profession because it was the family trade or because family finances allowed for greater independence. [Even then, their years of activity and degrees of recognition paled in comparison to their male counterparts… and marriage and children limited or ended their artistic production.]

But March 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of National Women’s History Month. For this reason, I thought it interesting to poll smart and savvy women who are skilled and serious about their studio practice, promotion, and community involvement. No doubt, it’s a delicate proposition for a man to pose certain questions of women; but I had no doubt the responses from these two – Joey Behrens and Traci O’Very Covey – would reflect confidence, introspection and sincerity.

Here’s what they had to say:

Joey BehrensJoey Behrens

When I survey the local landscape, I am surrounded by other women artists. We are producing work and have the same opportunities to show it as our male counterparts. When I look to the larger art world—the contemporary collections of museums and institutions, the pages of art world magazines, art fair rosters and news of record breaking auction amounts—this crowd thins. Women are no longer overtly excluded from the club, but we haven’t mastered the secret handshake that gains us equal and full access to it either.

I do not think of myself as a ‘woman artist’. My work comes from my experience in the world, so inevitably my gender impacts it – not just what, but how I make and present it. I’ve never been too concerned with other people’s expectations, whether those expectations stem from my gender, vocation, or size.

While I’ve never experienced overt discrimination as a woman artist, I am aware that people may make assumptions about me and my work based on my gender. The amusing thing is that because of my name, many assume I’m a man. This assumption has neither helped nor hindered my career; it has given me a certain amount of anonymity at openings, so I get to hear what people are saying about the work—and the artist.

Traci O'Very CoveyTraci O’Very Covey

It feels good to be an artist anytime. As far as being a “woman artist” I hope that in the western civilization at least, we are beyond any inequitable consideration of gender. At this start of a new decade, and in this young 21st Century, it seems the visual arts are limitless with possibilities. There is such an array of diverse types of art being created that the visual arts expression continues to be vast. I find myself hoping the economic situation improves and can continue to support art in all its many forms.

I prefer to be thought of as an artist in general without gender classification. However, since my work frequently tends to be an expression of the female form in a literal or symbolic way, I guess being a woman inspires my artistic idiom. Therefore, being categorized as a “woman artist” in my case could be beneficial in terms of distinguishing the art I am currently creating.

I don’t judge an artist or work of art based on gender and I hope that others would also just be open to their response to the art without consideration of whether a male or female created it. The only instance in which gender makes a difference is when the artwork overtly displays a feminine or masculine expression.

Not that I am aware of. I think I was born at an interesting point in time as I was able to see the women’s rights movement of the 1970’s change peoples lives when I was a young teen. I was raised by a working mother who taught me that we are all equal, and that we have the choice and personal power to do, or be, whatever we decide. I always had the feeling that I should be treated as an empowered and capable person and I think people have pretty much treated me that way. I studied art and graphic design at the University of Utah, started my graphic design business right after graduation and have been a self-employed person ever since. I have had my art in exhibits, my illustrations published, and my graphic design work recognized. So as far as I can tell, my being a woman artist hasn’t been a hindrance.

Categories: Visual Arts

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