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Women in the Arts

Women in the Arts: Answering the Question
Kathryn Stedham, Mar. 2010

After relocating to the state nearly fours year ago and eager to learn more about Utah’s vibrant Arts community, a recent conversation with 15 Bytes editor and artist, Shawn Rossiter prompted me to ask, how does Utah rate on issues of art and gender? Given Utah’s largely conservative roots, it is easy to see how one could make certain assumptions about a state with the highest total birthrate, the youngest population, youngest married population and one of the few non-Southern states that has more males than females.

Adding this demographic into the artist equation, complete with it’s list of artistic stereotypes, one would think that we (artists) would stand together on issues that would serve to divide us further. Isn’t it, united we stand, divided we fall? Well, according to some among us, this isn’t so, and the gap–the issue of gender.

Not surprising then, that during the summer of 2009 a young, emerging artist was told by a popular UT workshop instructor that “taking on women art students is a huge waste of [my] time…they all get married and have children…” Of course that student was female. Aside from the obvious question of male students marrying and having children and likewise attempting to make an honest living–why wasn’t this scenario considered in the same way. Aren’t many successful artists married and/or have children?

Wikipedia defines the term ‘feminism’ to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. It is also a movement that advocates gender equality for women and campaigns for women’s rights and interests. If feminism’s chief concern is gender equality, why then has ‘feminist’ become the other ‘f’ dirty word?

So what are the issues and why is history then, and as it plays out now, an important part of the dilemma? At this very moment a book sits on my partner’s bookshelf titled very assertively in large, bold type, MEN OF ART. The book was written in 1940. So, where and who, are the WOMEN OF ART? Amazon.com says that there are no books on this topic, just variations on Art by Women, Women’s Art or the Art of Being a Women.

Interestingly enough, prior to 1995 the primary art history textbook in the country by H. W. Janson, did not include any women among its 3,000 featured artists. In Feb. 1996, Marilyn Stokstad, a Judith Harris Murphy distinguished professor of art history, received the National Women’s Caucus for Art Honor Award for her 1995 survey textbook which directly challenged male-dominated, Eurocentric views of art history.

Contrary to popular belief, there many examples of women creating art dating back to prehistory. In fact there is strong evidence that suggest that ancient cave paintings, long-thought to have been painted by cavemen, were more likely to have been painted by cavewomen. Discoveries by art historians have settled on, the likelihood of matriarchal societies thriving throughout the ancient world. So, we may conclude that just because something wasn’t written, or taught, does not mean it isn’t so! Perhaps too, learning the secret handshake wouldn’t have been enough for the list of female Rembrandts, Picassos, Da Vinci’s and the like, to gain access to the greater art world.

Just how do we go back, rewrite history and add in history’s forgotten female artists. How to go about creating a more level playing field? Or do we leave that to the historians to sort out, and try to start where we are. Gender issues in the Arts are a complex issue. Here are a few recent national statistics….

• In 2006, only 23 percent of solo exhibitions in NYC art galleries were by women artists
• Many museums’ collections consist of only 5%-10% works by women artists.
• Only 30% of Art Review’s Power 100 were women
• There are 80 percent female students at the School of Visual Arts, but 70 to 80 percent male artists in galleries and museums.

How does Utah rate?

Lively month long series to include: Statistical information, Reviews, Opinion Polls and Comments.

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