Last night, while drifting off, I was thinking about a small notice in the December, 1922 “Studio” magazine I’d been reading: “The election of Mrs. Swynnerton marks a new and important departure from Royal Academy tradition. The candidature of women artists has been persistently discountenanced. In yielding to public opinion and falling into line with other leading art societies the Academy has, we think, acted wisely.”
Annie-Louise Swynnerton (1844-1933) just happens to be the first woman elected to the RA. Of her it was said, “Vitality is the word which best sums up her work. In her depictions of children, especially those painted in the open air, she could most easily express her youngness of heart, joy in life, and reckless abandonment to the appeal of light and colour.” Swynnerton was born in Kersal, near Manchester, UK, one of seven daughters of Francis Robinson, a solicitor. From an early age she painted watercolours to supplement the family’s reduced income. Later, she trained at the Manchester School of Art and the Academie Julian in Paris. Her work was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1879. I once bumped into one of her paintings in an antique shop in Derbyshire — a portrait of a shining, exuberant woman. I so much wish I had bought it. It reminded me of Lamartine’s remark: “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.”
Our world has taken a major turn since 1922. Today it’s estimated that there are more than twenty million people who have brushes and call themselves painters. Sixteen and a half million of them are women. Yesterday, of the 110 artists who newly subscribed to the twice-weekly letter, 81 were women. There may be even more as some of them have names like Torrie, Ruta, Pat, or simply “J” and we are not always able to tell. Today also, six thousand women will walk into an art materials store — for the first time. And also today nearly fifty percent of the art sold in commercial art galleries or via the internet will have been produced by a woman. Fact is, with or without letters after their names, women have grabbed the brass ring and have created excitement. Anais Nin said it, and it’s happening: “How wrong it is for women to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than set out to create it herself.”
PS: “Women’s liberation is the liberation of the feminine in the man and the masculine in the woman.” (Corita Kent)
Esoterica: Today we have something new on our clickback pages: Andrew has installed an automatically refreshed connection to sites in our reciprocally-linked artist’s links. We are determined to make our links to your sites the most effective on the net. Give it a try. You’ll find that most are particularly hot on google and some on other search engines. We have put some secret moxie on it for your benefit. Incidentally, seventy-two percent of our links just happen to lead to women.
Saved by science
You will get a bundle of emails from women crying foul and complaining how they have it so bad. As I see it, we women are remarkably poised to make great strides in the field of art. “The freedom of women was achieved by two things: One, the Pill. Two… by labour-saving devices like the washing machine. By science, not feminism.” (Doris Lessing)
Complicated dance for balance
by Marcia Perry, Saugatuck, MI, USA
I can’t let pass the overall impression you give of gender equity in the art world. While impressive gains in recognition for female artists were achieved last century, the measure of equality as measured by the marketplace, educational institutions and the critical milieu is still far from a reality for women.
When I visit the urban art centers periodically to peruse the latest preferences/fashions in art, I take an informal survey of which artists are featured in promoted shows and how much prime space is devoted in the gallery. The highest percentage of women I’ve found is 30%. Lists of artists represented by the established galleries shows a similar ratio. Even when a gallery represents a larger share of women, their work is frequently not on display or relegated to a back room. Demands of the marketplace where one has to go with what sells? Hardly! The marketplace is influenced by what is given the most attention and in the American art world particularly, male artists demand and receive more critical attention and command higher prices than do women of equal or greater merit.
In academia, despite the fact that women comprise the majority of enrolled art students, the faculties still consist of (in most cases) at least two-thirds men. Just take a simple count. Most art textbooks similarly persist in a male bias, too — though not all, as art historical scholarship is catching up with many misconceptions of the past and offering better role models for women artists of the present.
I do not believe that merely counting up male and female artists begins to describe the complicated dance for balance that the world depends upon for its well-being. Certainly, the masculine and feminine exist in all of us and deserve expression by both women and men. But the bias of our testosterone-driven culture is still exerting itself and awareness of this prejudice is essential to ultimately achieving eventual parity of opportunity.
I have hosted an exhibit of divine feminine artwork at my gallery for the past nine years in an effort to help balance things a little. It’s open to all artists with something to express on this theme and I am amazed at what arrives each year, much of which would never otherwise be shared with an audience hungry for the wisdom and inspiration of the feminine perspective. It’s a Goddess Show subtitled “O Muse!”
(RG note) Reading this, I can’t help thinking that some places may be more misogynist than others.
Women successful and high profile
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
Women artists here in my region of the earth are successful and high profile. We are having a celebration show at my gallery in the fall called ‘Legends.’ It will feature the work of five legendary women painters to this area: Marion W. Hylton, Eleanor Blair, Kathleen Wobie, Kate Barnes and Linda Pence. It is the first show of its kind here. I believe it will be very successful because these painters are very well known in north Florida. Unfortunately, on the national plein air level, there are a very few women painters who have reached the pinnacle of success. It’s still a man’s world in that arena.
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
It seems to me that it is best not to be pre-occuppied with the gender issue. All kinds of generalities are made about women and men, yet each one of us is a special individual, and sensitive artists may well transcend the psychological limits or colourings that may come from their particular sexuality, which in itself is arguable. Some claim that men are more cerebral and women are closer to the heart, that men are more left-brained and women right-brained. Yet, this is once again a generality. Betty Edwards wrote a fantastic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, containing a set of exercises to help one operate more in the right hemisphere mode of the brain, the non-verbal, aware of relationships side, and thus do much better life drawing. Her book really hooked me on art. And then there’s the story about two travellers coming to Scotland and for the first time seeing people wearing kilts. They were puzzled as to the gender of those they had seen, until one of the observers exclaimed, “Why, they must be from Middlesex!”
Reborn in my soul
by Patricia Neil Lawton, Coldstream, BC, Canada
I’m a portrait painter of children and women, although I do enjoy painting portraits of horses, pets and boats between times. I felt a strong connection regarding Ms. Annie-Louise Swynnerton especially when I viewed her works. I wonder when in 1933 she died? I was born on October 31 (a good witch) in 1933 and always felt that I was an artist, reborn. I hope that some of Ms. Swynnerton’s awesome talents have been reborn in my soul.
I find my subjects everywhere. Little children running through the library, in the parks, at the schools where I’m invited to come in and teach special classes. I then meet their parents and get permission to have the children sit for me. Young and old women who pass through my life. The “Red Hat Society” to which I belong, presents many interesting faces and fun occasions as well as ‘hats’ to excite my brush.
Liberation in our minds
by Alev Oguz, Istanbul, Turkey
Here in Turkey, eastern and western cultures are melted together. I was raised by a liberal family, always proud being a woman. I had the chance to study computer programming and worked as a professional in the IT sector where men dominate. Today I am an artist: a woman artist. I am one of the lucky women who had a chance to decide their occupation in life. This chance has been granted to me, to the Turkish women by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Turkish women got their rights to be elected in the parliament in 1934, much before most other countries. In 1935, 18 women were selected for the Turkish parliament. Today, 65 years later there are less women in our parliament. Why?
Laws define rights, but people should hold on to their own rights. They should set their rights in others’ minds. Today, even in the most civilized countries there are husbands beating their wives, fathers abusing their daughters, businessmen harassing their colleagues. Women’s liberation is only in the laws — it should be in our minds.
English quality better then than now?
by Malvern McCormick, UK
When one looks at older art magazines such as The Studio and The Artist, particularly from the periods before and after the First World War, one might wonder if quality has actually declined since that era. The mixed blessing of modernism had not yet taken its toll on the art schools and rigid standards of admittance were still maintained at the academies. One remembers such names as Frank Brangwyn, W. Lee Hankey, Leonard Squirrell, Anne-Louise Swynnerton, Childe Hassam, W. Russell Flint and so many others that are only now being actively collected again. While there were a lot fewer “stars” in those days, it seems that general proficiency, particularly in England, was better.
Now in the minority
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
In high school I saw a lot of girls in classrooms doing artwork. Usually very few guys and it made me think that maybe arts and crafts were a feminine interest. My inner drive to create prevailed and kept me in the classes just the same. I can’t recall ever showing any of my buddies my work outside of the classroom. Embarrassed of my work, I felt that I needed to improve more before I could show it to anyone. So I stayed secluded for many years, except for my family. Later I joined art groups or took an occasional workshop. Most of my instructors were women, and most of the art organizations and galleries are run by women. I find myself in the minority.
Girls inspiring girls
by Kerrie Warren, Newborough, Victoria, Australia
I completely resonate with Anais Nin! We must create our world ourselves, not expect a man to build it. I feel cut off in rural Australia as an artist so instead of getting down about it, I create opportunities to mix with other artists. I am on my way today to meet a friend (female artist) to have lunch and talk about our work, art, feelings etc. I already know that on my way home, I’ll feel so inspired again and will want to be cut off in my studio — and she will too! Go Girls!
“Don’t bother with the cobwebs”
by Christl Kennedy
I would like to acknowledge our encouragers — in my case, a wonderful husband. As a 40 year old woman… I work in an office 20 – 30 hrs a week, have two daughters (8 & 10) and a stepson (18) at home. Because my husband supports my dream of becoming a full-time artist, he willingly watches the kids, cleans the house, gets dinner ready etc., so I have time to paint and take my paintings to a park. All the other artists have been fabulous and very supportive as well and it’s encouraging to hear their stories, see new work, and watch them make a full-time living at it. There is a lovely artist there, whose deceased husband also encouraged her and used to tell her “I don’t care if there are cobwebs all over the house, just as long as you paint.” How wonderful to have these people in our lives.
“Male chauvinist pig”
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Sparks, NV, USA
Even though we may appear to be in the majority of artists, and in a new millennium, sexism and male chauvinism is prevalent in North America. And it is worse in other countries. In traditional work places it is still overt. As an artist I believe I’m faring much better because my work is visual. Recently when a male friend of the family, who has known me for years, came to our home and saw a display of my art, his first comment was, did my husband teach me everything I knew about art? I found myself saying out loud, “You are a male chauvinist pig.” Our next encounter, while teaching a class together, went far better and though we verbally sparred with each other, it was on equal footing. By the way, my spouse’s last painting was made in kindergarten.
Through the years, I’ve managed to squeeze in time for my artistic ventures — early, early morning; late, late night — after the kids were in bed. Now that the kids have grown and flown the coop, I have reasonable hours to paint, sculpt and let the creative process flow. Because I previously had used time when no one else was awake, I never realized the change in thought flow, personality and inter-reactions that came over me. When someone tries to speak, question or interrupt me during a creative session, I am either unresponsive, snappy or down right rude. I don’t like this side of me! It has started to block my creative juices — which isn’t good, as I am finally finding a niche for my talents. Any suggestions — or do I just lock the door to my studio?
(RG note) How you live your life is largely a matter of choice. You can choose to be grumpy — or not grumpy. Angry — or not angry. Snappy — or un-snappy. It’s possible to make up your mind to be pleasant to just about everybody who interrupts — and also to be pleasant when they leave. Interruptions or not — in the long run it really doesn’t make much difference — most of an artist’s problems are inner, not outer; personal, not environmental. It’s been my observation that there are artists that have kids pulling at their frocks who do well and thrive, and others who work in silent, padded palaces and get little done.
Change is a continuous demand
by David E. Vogel
Your Leaderlessness letter was interesting in that it’s quite in sync with what many others (in addition to Suroweicki) are beginning to write about. For example, Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science makes a compelling case for abandoning the 17th century Newtonian based organization theory of control and parts orientation for a more contemporary quantum theory based approach which focuses on the relationships among the parts, critical connections vs. critical mass, fluidity vs. predictability, etc. She points out that organizations are crumbling under today’s demand for fluidity and rapid response. Change has become a continuous demand that the old Newtonian organizations are not capable of contending with.
La celebración de la luz (The celebration of the light)
oil painting on linen
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Donald Kruger who wrote, “While I am not a painter with pigments, I overlay the tints of character and mind upon the wild-rendered canvas of Nature’s spirit. Though I myself have made nothing beyond the presentation of my found stony artifacts — even the ordinary viewer is boldly led in directions that he never before considered or imagined.”
And also Carol Fournier Dicks who wrote, “The root of the word and the concept of ‘individual’ is ‘undivided within.’ ”