The art world’s ghetto of lady painters

To The North by Lee Krasner Exiled Stardust

To The North by Lee Krasner, 1980

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.

Um, what?

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.


8 thoughts on “The art world’s ghetto of lady painters

  1. While I like your article and understand where you’re coming from I beg to differ on a few points: ” 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.”
    I personally as an artist refuse to be called a woman artist or a female artist or anything in between.Why? Because the need to label myself any different than any man would need to, would be an indication of feeling inferior not what you say that rejecting the label does. I draw women and often depict women’s issues and heck I’m a women but do I need to label myself as such? We need to stop treating women who do things other than being housewives as something peculiar and then it stops being peculiar. Today we are not Jane Austens and Agatha Christies we are working women with all kind of professions including being artists. If we start treating artists as brave feminist pioneers we are just going backwards instead of forward. We don’t need ‘female pilots’ we need pilots. We don’t need ‘female police officers’ we need police officers.
    Equality however doesn’t mean uniformity. A female pilot is still a female pilot and she should be celebrated as such but not as a brave feminist pioneer who does something extraordinary. She can be a woman on her own right who happens to be a pilot.That is what feminism in my opinion should promote and not labeling.

    • While I like your comment and understand where you’re coming from – honestly, a few years ago I would have sounded just like you – I beg to differ on the “pretend to be equal until it actually comes true” method of dealing with patriarchal oppression.

      Basically this is a form of denial. Assume a formerly male-only label and watch the patriarchy melt away!

      Only, it doesn’t work like this. Patriarchy is not so easily eradicated.

      We really do need to be feminists and assert ourselves as such. We need to declare our allegiance to the cause of women, because if we don’t, the dudes will push us out and snipe us off, one by one by one.

      Women don’t want to stand up and say they’re feminists any more, because feminism is a dirty word now. We need to change this. The violent oppression of women continues to be a global humanitarian crisis, and the only hope of ending it is by overthrowing male supremacy. We need feminism, all of us.

      • Where your thinking and my primary differs is that I don’t think that by reinforcing feminism (as it is today) women’s situation can be changed on a larger scale. Many women reject feminism not because it’s a dirty word (though I don’t doubt there are many who feels that way) but because it fails to provide them with solutions. With the best intentions feminism today cannot reach the women it supposed to advocate for.Why? Because women are too diverse to be defined by one goal. Many are happy to be housewives and many are happy to have a man at their sides even at the expense of their own and if anyone wants to advance women’s right, cannot overlook that.We might not like some women’s choices but if we want change we need to take all women into consideration. Male dominance cannot be tackled by listing all things men do wrong. It never worked and I doubt it ever will. We don’t want rape to happen not because we’re feminine goddesses but because it’s wrong. It’s wrong even if it happens to an alien. And we want equal wages not because we’re holy women who work but because we do the same job sitting at the same desk with the same results.
        Feminism in my opinion need to change its focus to reach those it wants to advocate for and move away from criticizing men to not providing our rights because it will never be understood. Women issues cannot be advanced without men being partners in it. And every men has mothers and sisters and aunts and daughters..etc.

      • Feminism is about achieving fully human status for women and ending male supremacy. Since that supremacy is the very reason we’re not considered fully human.

        Feminism doesn’t provide “solutions”, except one: Male dominance is the problem. Band together with other women and overthrow it. That’s it. Simple.

        Your cheerleading for the menz makes me wonder if you are actually a man, or just heavily male-aligned. Male behavior IS the problem. Men are oppressing us. Even men we happen to like benefit from our oppression. Even men who don’t oppress us on purpose but are only doing it on autopilot, because the culture has laid down misogynist rails for them to blindly follow.

        It is possible to be a feminist without hating all men. However, liking men is not required. Why do we feel the need to love our oppressors unconditionally? Because they want us to?

      • 🙂 I can reassure you that I’m a woman indeed though my life would be ten times easier If I was a man and that is where the problem lies. Let me put what I think this way: women’s rights are like a giant ship, unless you get everyone on board, this ship is going nowhere.In other words we’re all in it. Men & women aren’t two different species, we’re one species we need each other to live together otherwise the homo sapiens’ ship will go nowhere. We don’t need to cheer for men but as long as we both populate this Earth we cannot overlook them just because there are some men who treats women badly whether conditionally or autopilot. Men’ thinking cannot change overnight. It starts with little boys and mothers and fathers setting example. It starts with teaching them how to treat us and not by rallying against them. We’re one species. Men cannot function on an evolutionary scale without women and that’s true vice verse. Most women don’t want to got to war against men because we all have fathers and brothers and loved ones that they ..well This war mentality is what keeps many women away from feminism. We need to make men understand our needs and understand that it’s their advantage too if they give us the same rights they have but it can only happen through negotiation and acceptance.
        I like this conversation and I think it’s important, there should be more debates like that in feminism circles because feminism is important but it needs to address more diverse needs and opinions.

      • While I don’t mind discussing issues with commenters, you keep writing these mini-novels defending men and demanding that women “negotiate” for human status, something women have tried to do throughout history and which has never worked. You can’t negotiate away oppression.

        This blog is not about defending the male point of view. The whole rest of the internet does that. If you have anything more to say, you need to take it to your own blog.

  2. Dear commenters: troll comments that advise me to “ignore” comments that clutter up my blog with woman-hating crap fall under my definition of Internet Assholery, and as you all know, I have one rule on my blog, and that’s Don’t Be An Asshole.

    Disagreeing is one thing, but if you have a novel to write, particularly if it’s a novel cheerleading for the status quo, write it on your own blog. This is a safe space for feminists and it’s going to stay that way. Violators of my no-asshole policy will be banninated without futher notice.

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