Our future rests with female artists

Elisa Fang, Editor-in-Chief

Art directly responds to our culture, including the changes and conflicts, the recessions and progression, and expresses them in a universal language. When so culturally grounded, it makes sense that females should take heavy part in the practice; however, the amount of recognized female artists known by the average person won’t fill the fingers of one hand. Despite the insidious undertones, it’s not that females lack the ability to create, but rather that they’ve been deprived of the opportunity to become great artists.

In this way, art represents more than just pretty pictures. In the 1960s, the feminist movement erupted alongside civil rights and LGBT rights, with many choosing and using art to reflect their oppression and struggle. French-American artist Louise Bourgeois and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo both contributed to the birth of feminist art and surrealism, and are recognized rightfully so. After all, why are there so many acknowledged White men, while our minorities aren’t even in the minority?

Nevertheless, the imbalance between White men and everyone else has been established to be a frustrating status quo. Are women artists just not appreciated? The Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous activist group, investigated the appearance of  women in the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts, and found while a mere five percent of the artists were women, an overshadowing 85 percent of the nudes had a female subject. The initial interpretation of this information seems to reveal art as a sexist department, which it is, but not in the way one would expect. Art is sexist because our society is sexist, but this makes art a valid way to make sense of our history.

Trying to find an unappreciated female artist equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci or Vincent van Gogh would only be disheartening, simply because she does not exist. If there were hidden masses of great female artists, the feminist movement today would have very little to fight for. This would indicate women were of the same status as that of men. There would be no reason for protest.

The feminist movement is supported by notable female artists, or rather the lack thereof. The creation of great artists are not governed by their artistic talent. While many “scientific” studies claim human beings with wombs are incapable of producing anything of significance, it is ultimately untrue. Michelangelo’s teacher, Bertoldo de Giovanni, identified his talent and dreaded the day Michelangelo would let it go to waste (which he didn’t, thank goodness). Giovanni once found Michelangelo tinkering with a sculpture well below his abilities, and, with an explosive fury, smashed it, yelling an ever-so memorable: “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!” And it is! While talent may give people a certain advantage, the ability to expand on it makes one successful. Accompanied by our classist, sexist, racist society, to not be born a White male of preferably high middle class, is a much steeper mountain to climb as to achieve success and admiration. Even then, recognition is a result, not a cause of success.

But if both van Gogh, who was admitted into a mental asylum for many of his years, and Giotto di Bondone, a little shepherd boy, could make it, why couldn’t women?

The drive to make art is unstable, and the inspiration or what historians may even call genius, is not a static principle. It crowns when one is born into this world, the adaptations and interpretations of the atmosphere surrounding them mold their personality and creativity, enhanced by an education of math, sciences and philosophy. But it was an education most women did not receive. The arts were mostly encouraged upon males: parents sought after opportunities for their son’s development, art institutions looked for the spark of a young boy’s interest and great male artists passed on their knowledge to male apprentices.

Women were expected to tend to the family and place no attention on themselves. There are no female artists for the same reason the aristocratic line is void of artists; society expects them to busy themselves with different activities, and while males were encouraged to follow their passions, even the most noble of women could only pursue art as a hobby, not a profession. Females were expected to partake in the arts of sewing and weaving, and perhaps even dance or sing.

Michelangelo would’ve taken a very different path if he was a Michelle, even if she could sew the best tapestry in the world.

Through an art history perspective, the plight of females extends much deeper than disregard and sexuality. It is the continued expectation of how women are to attend to the needs of everyone else but herself — an expectation that has morphed throughout the centuries, but has never been eradicated entirely. This is the reason the feminist movement exists, and why it is so powerful. Never before has there been as much diversity in this field and, while great, the wisps of our history still linger to shield many from their full potential.

Our doodles, watercolors and acrylic paints have already demonstrated the growth in our society, and perhaps in the not-so-distant future, another great artist arises, with two X chromosomes and a passion for creation.