|The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo|
I was contacted by some Camp Quest organizers who were seeking examples of women artists. So far the only one they had come up with was Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist popularized in America by the film starring Salma Hayek, and known for her often surreal and autobiographical paintings.
I ended up highly recommending they use Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Yoko Ono, as all three are confirmed non-theists and big names in the art world. It does somewhat sadden me that even among college educated people, only one of these three is commonly known, and she's mostly famous for being married to John Lennon.
|Portrait of Victorine Meurent by Annie Kevans|
Nell Frizzell of the Guardian writes:
(Annie Kevans) has now painted more than 30 portraits of successful women who have been smudged out of the history of art for a new exhibition. Women like Victorine Meurent, who was an artist in her own right as well as one of Manet's muses, or Suzanne Valadon, who became the first female painter admitted to France's Société Nationale des Beaux Arts are among the women who are only now being singled out by later generations (Kevans's work follows the BBC's recent Story of Women and Art).
|Palm Sunday, the only surviving example of|
painting by Victorine Meurent.
There is plenty of lamentation these days about the lack of women in STEM fields, despite the fact that women are often well represented as students in STEM at the academic level.
But these same trends exist in the field of visual arts.
As one can tell from a stroll through any art museum, women artists in general have never been well represented. The numbers today are still rather bleak. Less than 5% of the artists featured in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, and startlingly, the numbers at the Museum of Modern Art aren't much better!
Despite the fact that in the 1970's (and also today) women were earning more than half of all graduate degrees in studio arts (source), less than half of full time professors of art are women, and only 30% of the artists represented by professional galleries are women. (source.) Similarly, women artists are featured only about 30% of the time in reviews and articles of ARTnews and Art in America.
|Shamsia Hassani, an Afghan graffiti artist|
It is here that the sexism inherent in American society is most evident. Evaluation of the quality and significance of works of art is a largely subjective practice. Expectations and standards evolve over time based on the ever-changing values and conditions of the society from which the artwork emerges. When only a slice of societal perspectives is represented by the dominant institutions and publications, history is bound to be skewed, and social progress stunted.
In is alarming, for instance, that Juxtapoz, a magazine covering the underground art scene, including graffiti, street art, erotica and illustration, features very few women artists (but plenty of casually sexist imagery without critical commentary), sometimes having whole issues which include not a single woman artist. This despite the fact that there are plenty up-and-coming female illustrators, creators of erotica, and street artists out there to profile, interview, and critique.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an American street artist
Moreover, just like Annie Kevans, we need to remember the women artists forgotten by history; bring them back to prominence, and teach about them to our daughters who long to be artists.
The summer of 1995, when I was a senior in high school, I spent 5 weeks in Mexico learning their language and culture. During that time I had the great privilege to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. The building (La Casa Azul) had been Kahlo's home. Many of the rooms have been kept as they were when the artist was alive. It was a hauntingly intimate experience. I felt a bit as if I'd stepped into someone's home, uninvited.
In one room I noticed a pillow with the hand-embroidered inscription:
No me olvides, mi amor.