“A Celebration of Female Artists,” is an exhibit showcasing local female artists working in various mediums, such as painting, drawing, mixed media, etc. I was honored to get a chance to interview these talented artists in order to gain a greater understanding of what motivates their work and the overall significance of what it means to be a female artist in today’s society.
KT: In what way(s) has art had an influence on gender roles in our society?
Art has always had an influence on gender roles in the same way it has influenced other social and political issues and illuminated universal truths through personal reflection. Even though some artists have focused more specifically on gender roles as a topic within their art, such as the artists of the first feminist art movement in the mid 20th century, I think that women making art is a historically revolutionary act in itself.
I’m not sure art influences society as much as it reflects it. For most of its history, art has reinforced traditional gender roles, but more artists are deliberately challenging these roles, as is our culture as a whole.
Art gives female artists a visual voice and the ability to share our perspective on society and culture. Art provides the platform to demonstrate what we are capable of both mentally and physically, technically and conceptually. It serves as evidence of the diversity within us.
For centuries of Art History, women have been the object, observed and painted, rather than the agent, observing and painting. We have long been the objects of beauty but have been excluded from the deserved recognition as the creators of beauty.
The demands of motherhood and the responsibilities culturally associated with being a wife, and more simply a woman, in our society today can cause women artists to feel selfish or worse—trivial—in their pursuit of art-making. Making genuine, mature art demands both time and energy away from caring for one’s spouse, children, and home. It demands that women garner from society the respect and recognition that they too have a voice beyond the home--a voice that is valuable to the flourishing of a healthy and complete society---a voice that is not selfish but culturally generative.
Who a male or female should be in life has been seen in images throughout history. From a young age, we were gender typed through art and the images portraying men and woman in” acceptable” roles. Forms of art have also had an influence on gender. Crafts, such as embroidery and quilting, were more of an acceptable form of art for women to create. It was also considered a lower form of art. Men on the other hand were serious respected artists who painted and sculpted. I do believe that through art we have made some huge leaps in bridging the gender gap. To think there was a time when women were not allowed to be artists. However, we are not there yet. There is still a way to go to reach equality in the art world
Gender roles in our society have been slowly evolving for centuries, and in the past 100 years have made considerable strides that place women and men as close as equals as ever. What is unfortunate, however, is that we are still not considered equals. This can be seen across society in nearly every sector. Women get paid 80 cents to the dollar that the man makes, which increases greatly for women of color. This exists even with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was created as a way to safeguard discrimination in pay for women - but has failed and continues to flounder. Society needs a total overhaul on how it considers women, and all minorities, as less than equal to that of the white American man. Art can influence this up to a degree, and I hope that in my lifetime I see it create the shockwaves and radical redesigning of the paradigm that is so desperately needed. Gender roles, like any major construct of society, can and must evolve over time and through millions of small steps - and then some big pushes - that organized people (activists) are dramatically responsible for. Artists are part of this picture, but certainly just a part. Society does not change until the visionary frontliners risk their lives and point towards the way. Artists can help in this movement, and at this moment in history should be doing all they can to push as hard as humanly possible. What is regrettable is we, artists, are not pushing the way I would like to see. But everything is incremental, although right now it feels like all or nothing is needed with basically everything at stake.
I wasn’t quite sure how I could respond to this question when I first got it from you, Kelontae, because generally my experience has told me that gender roles--or any external fact of the times or human condition--have worked on art rather than vice versa. So your question really brings up a lot of questions to work through for me. The way you’ve framed the question suggests the valid notion that any activist art has got to feed back with influences of its own, but then I’m hearing a line from a poem, “Poetry makes nothing happen,” and remembering it’s W.H. Auden on the death of W.B. Yeats and Europe is about to decompress into World War II and the threat of Fascism is as real as reality ever gets. And I’m also thinking about all the wonderful, amazing art I have loved by amazing men who dominated our views of art history. I see myself here very young looking at Manet’s Olympia, an amazing painting with a white woman as a sexual concubine on a couch and a black woman playing second fiddle carrying the flowers and then there’s the cutest little black cat, and I mostly think “God damn, I want to paint as well as he could.”
KT: What is a driving creative force(s) behind your work?
I use art as a way to discover things about myself communicate those ideas. Images have always spoken to me on a higher level than other forms of art, such as music or writing. To me, art is a way for me to reveal inner thoughts and feelings that I can't convey in any other way. I have stood in front of certain works of art in museums and felt a connection to a time and place beyond myself. I've understood the universe and other people more through experiencing certain works of art. I want to be a part of that conversation. That is the essential driving force behind why I am an artist.
I am inspired by dreams, nature, psychology, and mythology. All of my work unfolds like a story because I start with a group of observations, feelings, and ideas from my interests in comparative mythology, psychology and nature, and I don’t know the end until I am finished. When I have completed a sculpture, I feel like I have integrated all of the conscious and unconscious things in my head into one, and that I have a gained a deeper understanding and more insight into life.
The driving creative force behind my work is to address mental health issues in contemporary and approachable ways that can also drive dialogue and learning around the issues themselves.
Art making is, to me, an active response to a moment of visual surprise discovered in my everyday surroundings. I strive to notice commonplace moments of wonder and marvel at the unassuming. I am compelled to honor these moments by painting and drawing these moments. I am most interested in small, unassuming scenes that present instances of visual tension created through the juxtaposition of opposing aesthetic elements. In “The Piano Room,” a painting in The Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery’s “Celebration of Female Artists,” I set out to capture the strange interplay of abstract color shapes and undulating geometries found reflected upon my studio window at night. Similarly, in “Civita Castellana,” the distilled visual essence of centuries old rooftops beckoned an artistic translation. Simple moments such as these embody an intriguing phenomenon I seek to amplify through my work: any given subject matter can be banal and yet, mysterious.
My paintings, drawings, and prints seek to express my first impression and reveal my search for the aesthetic essentials of a chosen moment. To borrow the words of Euan Uglow, “I am painting an idea not an ideal”—a remembered impression rather than a meticulous rendering. I compose structured works that aim at depicting a satisfying harmony of control and abandon, imbued with poetic emotion. I invent, omit, and simplify whenever necessary, intending to arrive at a pleasing balance between described observation and remembered impression.
Whatever the mode, media, or method, through artistic expression I strive to draw my viewer to the profound presence of the moment by honoring the seemingly mundane and commonplace.
My work is motivated by my own perceptions of myself and life experiences. The images I create are somewhat of a self-portrait. Every part of my images symbolizes a part of myself. How these images are perceived are completely up to the viewer.
In two words: survival and love. I make my work in an attempt to remain alive, active, and aware. It is a process I engage in that I deeply love - on a daily basis - that literally sustains my soul and keeps me grounded and alive. I work under the assumption that art has saved my life and has this capability for all humans. That creativity is the most important form of exercise and expression, as a tool for processing as well as communicating, that has ever existed. This can take so many forms - but the ability to be creative, to express oneself in freedom - this is key. The driving force behind this living philosophy is the exquisite power of love and the many complex ways that love is seen, felt, and received while alive on earth.
Narrative drives my work, however it always remains subservient to the larger formal concerns. To this end, I may run through several narratives in the course of any one painting, in a sense, finding my subject through the process. I want to create layered narratives that defy the stillness of the painting - creating a kind of “thick time” where residues of the past and suggestions of the future swirl around the present. Above all, I seek to make images that engage the viewer through both the subject matter and the underlying aesthetic, creating visual narratives that challenge the passivity of the spectator, and encourage the viewer to go beyond the moment shown. And for now, at least, those narratives remain semi-autobiographical, domestic images, which I hope can begin to visually whisper the contrast between unabashed indulgence and the selfless constraints of motherhood.
Even though I wanted to be an artist from as early as I can remember, this is my second career so always the first thing I’ve told people who wanted to know anything about what subjects I deal with and what my fundamental influences are is that I’m in a basic way responding to my background in ancient languages and literature and art. I can’t get away from that, but the more time that goes by, that all takes its place in a larger context. I’m really curious about how abstract forms can come to embody and represent realities of language, writing systems and larger underlying natural and physical relationships between things
KT: What is the significance/importance behind having an all-female art exhibition?
A show featuring only women artists is a chance to see these artists' work in another context. The works can take on new meaning or an audience may find subtle connections between different artists just by exhibiting them in the same space. At the same time, a viewer is able to see how many talented women artists there are and the diversity of perspective and creativity within that group.
We bring our biases, whether conscious or not, to art shows and those biases can manifest as expectations about what we’ll see, including the themes and materials. An all female art show invites us to bring expectations just by billing itself as “all female”. The best shows challenge our expectations and sometimes validate them while at the same time expanding them.
I wish I could say that the art world was different than all other industries in the representation it provides for women, yet there is still a disparity between the number of male represented artists versus female. It is important for shows like this to highlight the work of female artists and bring awareness to the need for them to be recognized. I believe the tides are changing because of efforts such as this, but there is still room to go.
I think it is significant to have an all-female art exhibition in 2017 because the tide of women’s agency is rising. It is important that women artists today have an equal platform to express and exhibit their artistic voice and vision. Society benefits when the voices, talents, and artistic expressions of its daughters, wives, and mothers are recognized, promoted, and equally espoused. An all-female art exhibition recognizes and attempts to reconcile centuries of art history that overlooked and excluded the contribution of creative and talented women.
I believe, any all-female art exhibition celebrates our continued growth and acceptance of women as contributors of art in our society and history.
Women are superheros on every level. Women artists have things to say that I appreciate hearing and seeing without the influence of other men artist in the same show. To showcase female artists in a singular way is important because it supports the idea that we are special and deserve - at least sometimes - to be singled out and named and seen separately from our counterparts. At the same time, I must address my continued interest in non-binary ways of thinking - and that to limit ourselves to the concept of man/woman and male/female is actually doing everyone a great disservice. But if we must, and we must still to some extent, I do believe in giving women as many accolades as possible as much as possible for as long as possible.
To give women an a voice in a male dominated field, but more importantly to inspire other women.
I add my voice. The all-female art exhibit can be an empowering event. I feel special affinities for the work of several of the artists represented in the present show at the Linda Matney Gallery and am thankful to what you all have given me with the example of your beautiful, ambitious, thoughtful, humorous, disciplined and imaginative work and your supportive conversation.