From time to time I do workshops and demonstrations for art clubs in my community. At the beginning I generally ask some questions: “How many paint in oils, how many in watercolor, how many in acrylic?” Here I look clearly into the faces of those who have given up an evening to try to pick up a new technique or two. Generally, eight out of ten will be women. Often these women will be in the process of switching gears from previous identities as wives or mothers. Some will have taken up painting the way others take up golf or bridge.
In popularity, painting is only slightly behind photography and slightly ahead of goldfish. Those artists who regularly teach adult classes and do workshops know that it’s a growth industry. When I look into those shining faces I realize I’m witness to a phenomenon that has not existed to such a degree in previous times. It’s estimated there are now 7 million women painters in the world. I’m not going to go into the sociometric causes — but it has to be observed that these are people who want to learn and grow, share community, and gain satisfaction and even passion from something that is more than a hobby. Outrageously challenging, art is also a tender and gentle activity that fits our times. Further, it’s not at all surprising to me that excellent artists are rising from among these legions.
Women now get going at any age. They can and do open their own doors. The expression of creativity is not the rare commodity it once was, nor is it the sinecure of men.
PS: “Women can also be creative in total isolation. I know excellent women artists who do original work without any response to speak of. Maybe they are used to lack of feedback. Maybe they are tougher.” (Elaine de Kooning)
PPS: “True strength is delicate.” (Louise Nevelson)
Esoterica: Emily Carr (1871-1945) was an average watercolour dabbler when, at age 58, she suddenly started painting big oils in what she called the “marvellous modern manner.” She found for herself a unique voice, reinvented Canada’s western forests, and monumentalized forever it’s totem heritage.
This letter was originally published as “Women in Art” on February 6, 2001.
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“When you really think about your hand you begin to realize its connection, to sense the hum of your own being passing through it. When we look at a piece of the universe we should feel the same.” (Emily Carr)