Why "Women Artists" Are Still Worth Talking About

ArtNews just released its June issue, which is devoted to women in the art world. While the status and opportunities for women in the art world have certainly improved since they first began covering the subject 45 years ago with the publication of Linda Nochlin’s classic essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” they have not improved as much as you would expect and the news is not encouraging.

On the positive side: Women, who once had difficulty accessing MFA programs, now earn 60 percent of all MFA degrees. At least a few women have been written into revised art history books. And slowly, but surely, women have taken the helm at more art museums and galleries. But according to the extensive statistics rounded up and presented by Maura Reilly in “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures and Fixes,” inequality and gender bias still exist, and in no small measure. In summary:

  • - Men still run the majority of museums, especially those with larger budgets.
  • - Men receive far more solo shows and are represented in more permanent collections.
  • - Men also dominate galleries large and small. It’s hard to get your foot in the door if you are a woman.
  • - Media coverage (feature articles, advertisements and cover photos) is devoted primarily to male artists.
  • - Media coverage and solo shows drive auction activity and prices, which clearly favor male artists.
  • - Women remain under-represented at every level—from local galleries to the top art museums in the world.

ArtNews also turned to notable women in the art world from different generations for their perspectives. Overwhelmingly, they agree that gender bias remains a significant challenge for women in the art world, and that this is not the only bias—that the art world is still largely a white man's world.

There are those who will argue that we should be beyond having to talk about women artists as opposed simply to artists. And truthfully, we should be there. But this article clearly highlights that we are not—and why we still need to continue to promote the work of women in the art world.

As is often pointed out, art is a reflection of culture—yet if most of the art we see is by men, art is only reflecting part of our culture. Where are the rest of the voices? The gatekeepers, historically and still primarily men, determine what is considered appropriate, acceptable and exceptional art. They still decide whose work is seen and whose voices are heard. Women need to speak up. Their voices need to be heard. Yet, I’m not convinced it’s about shouting (though some may be necessary along the way). In the end, what we need is conversation—the kind where people listen to each other, respect different views, embrace greater understanding and are open to change.

"At the end of the day, we are all human beings searching for equality in a challenging system. We need a narrative change. We need a new set of terms. And most importantly, we need to keep the conversation going.  —Carrie Mae Weems

My greatest concern is for future generations. I work closely with young women—many of whom are studying for careers in studio art, art education or arts management. I believe they need to know the realities of the art world they are headed into. They need to be exposed to more work by female artists. They need mentors and role models who can support and encourage them along the way. They need to develop leadership, creative problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills. They need to find their voices, speak up, and work persistently toward their goals—at least one of which, I hope, will be equality for women in the art world.

Conversations with Creative College Women

I had the pleasure of interviewing 36 college women last spring about their views on creativity. Each also allowed me to photograph her expressing her sense of creativity in some way. Some brought symbolic objects or items they had made. A few launched into performances. And others expressed their creativity in more personal ways. Some of the images are featured in this short digital story.

Conversations with Creative Women from Lee Anne White on Vimeo.

Moving Beyond My Comfort Zone

Last summer when I gave an evening lecture at the Maine Media Workshops, presenting a series of landscape and seascape images, a woman in the audience asked, "Don't you ever photograph people?" My response was that as a landscape photographer, I've had very little demand for people in my shots. And that's true. But for several years, I have longed to photograph people--something I really have not done in, well, a very long time.

ALISON SELLERS/Sophomore/Political Science and Gender Studies

"Influential women who have made an impact on the world inspire me."

But I'm a strong believer in the power of personal projects to get you out of your comfort zone. It's a great way to explore new techniques, new subjects and new ways of seeing. My opportunity to photograph people came this spring. For a graduate course in creative studies, I was exploring the subject of women and creativity. Some researchers in this field have proposed that women may both define and express creativity differently than men. As a graduate of a women's college and advisor to a collegiate women's organization, I decided to ask college women their thoughts on this subject. And then I photographed them expressing their creativity in some way. Some chose to be photographed with symbolic objects or something they had made; others put on a performance in the studio. The end product is a book in which I pair the photograph with a quote from the student.

I have to confess, it's the most fun I've had taking pictures in a long time. The students were great. Of 36 photographed, no two walked into the studio with the same concept. And they all shared interesting views on the subject of creativity. So over the coming days and weeks, I'd like to share some of those images and their comments, as well as a few reflections on the creative process, with you.

TAWNY KERN/Senior/Fashion Merchandising

"Being around creative people is like fuel. There is this energy created that is sometimes a force to be reckoned with. It's like a snowball: One idea turns into another, that then turns into another. I love how you can end up with something so far from what you started with."

Photos ©2010 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.