Few people know the names of the notable female artists, past and present.
So on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015, a group called Art Feminism gathered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for a Wikipedia-thon, “to create and edit articles about female artists, feminist art scholarship and feminist art movements.” 1
Take a look at the current Wikipedia page on Women Artists. Do you recognize most of the names? Perhaps not. Even if you are or have been a serious student of art history, many of these female artists aren't usually included in the curriculum.
Sahirah Fatin Wade Bussey, an alumnus of Spelman College, was puzzled by why her art history classes at Georgia State University focused only on the tried-and-true icons of art. She conducted a survey using eleven pre-service art teachers and then published the results in her 2007 Master’s thesis. 2
Bussey’s goal was to find out if these future classroom teachers would be interested in integrating themes of feminism, social justice and minority culture into the art classroom, issues she dealt with in great depth at Spelman. She presented them with a list of notable and lesser-known male and female artists, from Picasso to Georgia O’Keefe to Lennore Chin and Lynda Benglis, asking the teachers whom they recognized. No surprise she found that these teachers were not knowledgeable about artists outside the Western Cannon.
When it came to women artists,
Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt were widely recognized,
but that was pretty well it.
In her thesis, Wade Bussey came to this conclusion:
“Art teachers should demand an education that is more a reflection of the real world.” 2
In 2005, Kristin M. Jaeger, a graduate student working on her Master of Science at Buffalo State College, quizzed a trio of master art teachers, all of them serious visual artists in their own right. Her goal was to learn more about the process of female creativity from a modern day point of view. 3 In the past, Jaeger wrote in the preface to her study, there were countless obstacles to women becoming serious visual artists.
Art-world pioneers of the female sex had to have the support of their fathers or other influential males.
Otherwise, any woman who tried to break into the ultra-masculine domain of serious art were ridiculed and demeaned or simply ignored. Jaeger wanted to know what barriers they faced with respect to practicing their art. She asked her subjects why they chose teaching as a career. Was being an art teacher a help or a hindrance? She discovered that all three women believed that being artists in their own right made them better art teachers. Furthermore it offered them financial stability and a chance to give back to society.
For all three women the creative urge was something innate within them; even when juggling their different jobs and family obligations, they usually found time for their art.
And if an outside obligation or family issue forced them to give up creating for a while, they always came back to it.
A recent survey revealed that 90% of Americans believed geniuses can only be male. 4
Great art: must it always be produced by obsessive work-a-holic ‘geniuses’ in their lonely garrets, as is the modern myth, or by Renaissance men surrounded by their admiring mature students, in their bustling 16th century studios?
This research seems to suggest that adding names to Wikipedia solves only half the problem. Maybe, in order to raise the profile of woman artists, it is time to actually change people’s perception of what it takes to be a serious artist.
BY: DOROTHY NIXON
Contributing from Montreal, Quebec CN
Cover Photo: Sofonisba Anguissola's Portrait of Her Sisters Playing Chess 1555. Source: WikiGallery.org
2. Wade Bussey, Sahirah Fatin:Pre-Service Art Teachers and the Use of Feminine Curricula and Padagogy in the Art Classroom; Georgia State University, Art and Design Thesis. 2007.
3. Jaeger, Kristin M.: Creative Female Visual Artists Who are Master Educators. Copyright 2005. Buffalo State College of State University of New York. International Center of Studies in Creativity.