I’m going to take the opportunity of March being “Women’s History Month” and study a bit about women artists in the past. The biggest problem with studying that topic is that there just isn’t that much readily available material.
My first group show was in 1956
Women in art seem to have been largely ignored until the 1960s and the Feminist Artists Movement. Of course, this was a challenge, and I love a challenge.
Some of the findings were real eye-openers.
Women artists had not been unproductive in the past. However, much of what they did was not defined as “art” by the “artistic community;” it was “craft.” To show how this worked, we can look at the output from and the reception of the works by very skilled and productive artist, Faith Ringgold.
An African-American woman, Ms Ringgold grew up with family members who had been held in slavery in their youth. As an adjunct to keeping oral histories, the women of the family had created what they called “Story Quilts.” The squares in each quilt depicted incidents in the family history. Ms Ringgold, a painter, took these images and incorporated them into her work, retaining the form and content of the original in the new medium.
It was, to me, such an exciting concept, a sort of “unbroken chain,” connecting people and generations.
To be honest, male artisans of the Renaissance struggled under much the same ghetto-izaton. Leonardo Da Vinci did more to create the concept of artist-genius that anyone else. When he began his campaign, the artist was considered a menial craftsman. By continually stressing the intellectual aspects of art and creativity, Leonardo transformed the artist’s public status into, as he put it “Lord and God”.
Eventually, the men of the era were able to break through the “snob ceiling;” unfortunately, they weren’t accompanied by their female contemporaries when the history was told. Until the appearance of revisionist art histories in the 1960’s most information about women artist’s was buried.
This brought about a personal revelation. I had been thinking that I had begun my quest to be an artist a short time ago, but viewing my life through the new facet of a cognitive prism, I realized that I’ve really been on this road for much of my life. I had been convinced that the quilts, paint-by-number, macramé and all the crafts I had experimented with weren’t really “creative.” In fact I used to go out plein air drawing when I did not even know it was considered a genre. When in Boston, I used to go to Walden Pond to soak in the natural beauty of the place and to draw flowers.
However, with this epiphany, I could see that it had been a real outlet for my creativity. Such an exciting unearthing!
Just recently, my nephew uncovered evidence that I had had an artistic background early in life. He had been going through some family photos, and he found a picture of me, with my first-grade class, taking part in a group painting exercise in a storefront. Seeing the picture triggered a wealth of memories. It had been great fun. They actually let me use all the paper I wanted. Midas at his height could not have felt more privileged.
Floodgates open, I remembered that in the seventh grade I had been the team captain for the winning group of youngsters who painted the Halloween decorations for the town storefronts. It was amusing to think that this was a foretaste for two of my careers: project manager and artist.
It hadn’t seemed worth of consideration back there, but I was the one that drew all the pictures with the members of my team painting them as I directed afterwards. Shades of a Renaissance studio.
Now, I’m coming to understand there were a lot of road marks, potential premonitions about which I simply hadn’t taken cognizance.
As another example, when I took electives in college, where my cord studies were hard science, I took art courses.
Studying these women artists has been fascinating, both for the factual information and how it has helped me in personal growth. I’ve put a lot of addition information about what I’ve found on my FaceBook page for anyone who might be interested.
It has been such an interesting experience.