Are women artists the overlooked equals of men, or do they have their own separate story to tell? In trying to answer, Andrew gets lost in the weeds, perhaps understandably so, because the answer to all of these questions is yes.
James Panero, from the blog Supreme Fiction
Panero has a bit of nerve pointing fingers, there. He’s about to get lost in some mile-high weeds of his own.
Part of the confusion here may lie in the way political feminism has controlled our sex-based dialogue, all while trailblazing women into an artistic ghetto.
Is Panero saying that women are marginalized because of feminism?
The fact is that feminism has largely been the sideshow, rather than the main event, for women in the arts.
Charming implication that the fight for women’s rights is some kind of circus act aside, it has apparently never occured to Panero that women tend to avoid the subject of feminism because they’re attacked by men every time they dare to bring it up, and that includes women in the art world.
Feminist art might now take pride of place in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center at the Brooklyn Museum, where Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, a feminist Seder table with vagina-themed place settings, takes up the museum’s attic. But this arch work only extended the most hyperbolic qualities of over-sexed macho art. It sent Picasso’s dentata to the orthodontist and felt satisfied with newly straightened teeth.
Oh. I get it. Panero doesn’t think art is “feminist” unless it’s about vaginas or painted with menstrual blood or something.
I’ve got news for ya, dude: that kind of art isn’t even all that feminist, really. Like non-feminist art, it’s mostly about stripping women and chopping their bodies up into safe little bits.
The artists usually say they’re being ironic or questioning gender roles or something, but basically they are serving up ladyparts for men to look at. Ultimately this isn’t their fault, as they’re just supplying the eternal male demand for fresh new female bodies to exploit. It’s the fault of the men who demand, not the women who supply. Nevertheless it doesn’t make me feel very liberated. Art-dude nation doesn’t care what we’re questioning; they just want us naked, bleeding and cut into pieces.
There are a lot of women artists doing art that doesn’t objectify women at all. I’m one of them, actually. There are many others whose work I feature on this here very blog. At least one of those women is a radical feminist who doesn’t think painting vaginas or throwing bloody tampons really helps women much in their struggle to achieve human status. Way to paint us all with a single brush, so to speak.
Hey, art-dude nation: the very fact that women artists exist is a feminist fact. Even if some of those women have to do and say some pretty antifeminist things to get by in a male-dominated world. Like Lee Krasner rejecting the label “female artist” because of the inferior status that goes along with admitting one is a female anything. Even though she lived under her husband’s shadow, she didn’t live the kind of life women are supposed to live. Her existence was feminist resistance even when her words were patriarchal compliance.
These examples aside, what “To be a Lady” mainly suggests is that sexual difference means more than nothing and less than everything in art. That’s a wide area to operate in, and it should be, because being a lady (or being a gentleman, for that matter) is one of the great assets informing an artist’s individuality.
So an artist’s “individuality” depends on gender essentialism? How is it possible to conform to cruelly oppressive, not to mention silly, stereotypes and still be an “individual”? This argument is so empty it refutes itself.
Even without pivotal figures on display like Helen Frankenthaler, the lady who made the men look like boys, “To be a Lady” suggests how women have advanced an abstract language that is thankfully free of distracting male quavers. Without macho bluster, the works here can settle into contemplative, often symmetrical compositions.
Oh, here comes that classic dude-argument: women should be grateful for their special lady status because it makes them special and better than men! Men are just holding onto all the financial resources and positions of power so that we don’t have to sully our delicate, artistic lady-fingers with the unseemly trappings of trade!
Yeah. We live in a world where everything from Page 3 to job discrimination to sexual assault statistics to catcalling jerks on the street serves to remind women daily just how special men think we are.
Am I the only one who finds it cruelly ironic that both the dude-blogger and the curator of the lady-painters exhibition are both male? Men get to decide which women are acceptable and why.
Women artists are in a lady-ghetto, all right, but we didn’t put ourselves here.