FINDINGS AND INTERPRETATION OF THE DATA
There has been a growing awareness about the historical and social contributions of women artists. This interest has been brought forward by the Feminist art movement in the 1970s. Since then, in 1987, the National Museum of Women in the Arts was opened
in Washington, DC. In 1997 the Georgia O’Keefe Museum was opened in New Mexico (which is the first museum dedicated to the work of one woman artist). More recently, in 2007 the Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center of New York opened and has dedicated
one wing of the museum to feminist art. One will also find specialized university courses that focus on the history of women artists. However, women artists are still underrepresented in traditional art history textbooks, in museums, exhibitions and
solo shows (Guerrilla Girls, 1998).
Relative to the research questions that guide this study are the historical, societal and political roles of women and the issues surrounding
the inequity of women artists in art history. The literature review explores some of the possible reasons for this discrepancy. It also explores historically important women artists, their life stories, accomplishments and their struggles.
Secondly, the guiding questions’ goal was to identify which experiences of the art historians and artists in this study may impact art history education in practice and art history students in general. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed, compared
and summarized to present individual life experiences of each historian and artist. The interviews also examine practices in a feminist classroom. These findings strengthen the construction of an art history course.
The collection of interviews, data and literature in this study are utilized in designing a feminist pedagogy art history classroom model. The analysis of common, basic principles was challenging, yet necessary to design an effective art history course that
could represent more women artists.
In the Data Linking to the Research Questions
the exploration of the interviews I found some reoccurring issues that affected the inclusion of women artists throughout history. The salient points that emerged are: (a) religion, (b) education and training, (c) museums and galleries, (d) investors and collectors,
(e) economy, and (f) domestic responsibilities. There are three other subjects that play a part in the underrepresentation of women artists: government, connections, and environmental pressures.
These societal issues speak to what women artists face then and now, and these themes are vital to our understanding of women's relationship to dominant modes of production. It also serves to present previously unknown artists. This study interviews four historians
and three artists on the issues surrounding their personal and professional lives.
Before the Western culture created the myth that degraded the status of women, Goddesses were worshiped in the Greco/Roman times. Women were admired for their intelligence, wisdom, bravery, peacemaking abilities, fertility, motherliness, and earthliness.
The Goddesses are religious images, they are not spiritual. The Greeks and Roman’s have their own Gods and Goddesses, for example Venus, Athena, Juno, Zeus, Poseidon, etc. The Greeks and Romans first became more knowledgeable
about the representation of the human figure, Damian asserts, “Goddess figures that are exemplified by Venus or Aphrodite begin to take on a sexuality that for the Greeks and Romans was probably not as sexual or as erotic as we may want to interpret
because it was really part of their understanding and philosophy.”
Women have been historically subordinate to men since the creation
of the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, Adam was in charge. Adam was God's right-hand man, the one to whom He had given dominion, power and authority. Adam blamed Eve for the original sin.
This belief has perpetuated over the years. Dr. Damian explains in our interview, “The Judeo-Christian tradition which blames Eve for everything... Eve becomes the villain…. So what happens is that Goddess is transformed through
the Judeo-Christian tradition which blames Eve for everything... All the adjuration that was part of Goddess worship is turned upside down because the man doesn’t want to give that kind of credit to the women anymore. So the whole story begins
Education and Training
Women had minimal access to education, training and materials in the past. Dr. Favis, a participant
in this study claims, “There wasn't a level playing field to the kind of training that you needed… So no big surprise that there wasn't a female Michelangelo”. Dr. Damian expresses similar knowledge about women’s lack of education,
“The women had less opportunity, very few of them were allowed into art schools, they weren’t allowed to do live modeling, and if you don’t look at a figure a lot, then it’s very hard to reproduce that figure”.
Women were denied aesthetic knowledge and denied admission in general subjects so they couldn’t understand the mathematical theories or the principles of designing i.e. perspectives, scale, form, texture, etc. Dr. Favis position is that, “They
didn't have access to the theory, the training…You will be a better artist having studied art and learned something about how to make it rather than just going out and being inspired and expressing yourself”. Dr. Damian maintains, “They
weren’t allowed to take science courses. If you can’t take a mathematic or science course you don’t understand the theory of perspective… you compete with men that are doing grand scale compositions, but if you don’t know
how to do it, if you’re not allowed into the art schools, you’re not allowed to understand the compositions integration of that figure, the land, the building or whatever”.
Women artists were denied access to art education so they were portraitists. Dr. Damian explains, “Portraits happen to be against a simple background, like a curtain. They’re not going to do a large expansive space because they don’t
All of the artists that were in this study received a formal or some form of art education. Auburn Ellis was a undergraduate
at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She said, “I did a Bachelor’s of Art in Studio Art” she stated. Then Auburn received a Master’s in Museum Education. Auburn explains, “My Master’s thesis was a critical look at equity
in museums across the United States because really museums dictate what society deems as important or culturally relevant”.
Cecilia Lueza received her formal art
education in Argentina, earning both an undergraduate and master degree in art. Cecilia is a painter and also constructs large outdoor sculptures for the community and for corporations. Ofra Friedman did not receive a formal art education. Ofra being
from Israel originally states, “Basically the only art education was art history in the schools”. When she was in the army she started to take sculpture classes. Then Ofra was introduced to wire mesh by Ms. Hartle in Israel and she works in that
Social and Environmental Pressures
Social expectations created by a patriarchal society also negatively affect women’s
perceptions of their abilities and potential. Gilligan (1982) anticipated this perspective by stating that girls who may have been encouraged to demonstrate their creativity in high school years encounter barriers when they leave the school settings (high
school or college). During this time, women find it difficult to balance a desire to focus on the development of their talents and, at the same time, accommodate social expectations. In a need to conform to the stereotypical role of a nurturing and self-sacrificing
wife and/or mother, many gifted and talented women are likely to relinquish their dreams.
When Ofra came to the United States from her home country, Israel, she had to
overcome some hurdles that she still contends with today. Ofra exlpains, “When I spoke people didn’t understand me because I had a very heavy accent…I knew the language but I had to repeat myself several times until people really understood
what I was saying”
During the Impressionist Era, artist such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot experienced social pressures that were
similar to the ones contemporary women have when we are considering public places. Because these artists were proper middle class women in the 1800’s there were certain things society saw as unacceptable and considered lower class or worse if seen there,
i.e. the cafes, the race tacks or lounge. A proper lady could go, but Dr. Favis explains their situation, “they had to have a chaperone if they went”. The places that they did not frequent were the places where artists got together and exchanged
ideas. An artist from this period didn’t exactly have access to the same social environment. They could go, but not comfortably on their own or in the best interest of their or their family’s reputation.
Dr. Favis remarked on how students still are oppressed by the social pressures of public establishments. Favis confirms, “[students] say, it's still like that. You know, we wouldn't walk into such and such a place by ourselves. Or if we do we feel really
uncomfortable…some of those issues haven't actually gone away”.
The artists interviewed find it difficult to balance art and accommodate social expectations. In a need to conform to the stereotypical role of a nurturing
and self-sacrificing wife and/or mother, many gifted and talented women are likely to relinquish their dreams.
According to Gilligan (1982), young talented girls and women confront a
challenging dilemma in an effort to develop their talents and interests when they have been brought up to perceive themselves within the web of human relationships that include the expectation of them to care for others. This dilemma is encapsulated
by Cecilia. She voices her sediment, “you have all these responsibilities…once you have a child…it becomes more stressful finding the time to work on your craft…but I think they underestimate female artists…they think, okay,
well, maybe she's married, has kids, she's not going to want to work full time on the project or she's not going to do this for time”.
Motherhood presented another
set of challenges related to finding time for creative endeavors. Ofra had a similar experience as a mother and wife, “I was still going to school in Maryland but the struggle was to find someone to watch the baby…So it was just time…And
it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t the normal way”. When Ofra had two more children her family responsibilities forced her to stretch her studies over a longer period of time. Regarding her studies she said, “I also didn’t do it full time
because I was trying to adjust to the structure and the studies and I had to take the English literature and English grammar which helped in order to get adjusted to the studies in general”. She not only had to work, raise the kids and go to school,
keeping the house, she was developing her career too.
Because the accountability of children seems to land on the lap of most women, Cecelia also grapples with the fairness of domestic
responsibilities. Ceclia contends, “I know from my experience, male artists -- many of them are married, have ten kids and they can stay 24 hours in their studio working nonstop and nobody's going to say anything. If I did that forget it. Then
everything's falls to pieces”. Dr. Damian concurs, “it’s the same thing that affected women in the past 100 years and that is the opportunities, the connections, the often other priorities, you know get married, etc… and can’t
dedicate herself the same way as a man might be able to do. If he didn’t have responsibilities of a family like women do”.
How to balance the time needed to make artwork
with the time required to earn a living was an obstacle with which several of the artists interviewed confronted. They find it necessary to work full-time jobs in order to guarantee their financial security. Most professional, hard working women artists who
juggle domestic responsibilities and their career do not have the opportunity or luxury of depending on others to elevate some of these responsibilities. “The women who were a success, like Sofonishba Anguisssola and Artemisia Gentileschi, they
were fortunate”, says Dr. Damian. She said, “They came from families that supported them and encouraged them or they were married to somebody or their father was somebody that encouraged them so they had access to things that other artists didn’t
have”. Dr. Favis asserts, “Even though, some barriers can come down, in many cases, we are dealing with some of the same sorts of issues that artists from the Renaissance were dealing with”.
Women from the Impressionism period were not too different. Dr. Favis maintains, “Mary Cassatt never married because she had to have a career. Berthe Morisot is the exception. She did marry. She did have a child, but she had a husband who was incredibly
supportive of her and, didn't have to have a day job and plenty of servants because she was very middle class, etc.”
Today the financial responsibilities of the average American
home are shared between the man of the household and the women. Dr. Favis believes for women, “if you do drop out of the scene to have a family. The getting back into the scene is a much more challenging business.
Dr. Favis was very insightful in this topic as well. When talking about the background of the Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, she explains:
And there's a really good essay in that that talks about the historical, critical reception of it and the different ways that it was perceived by -- and both here in the United States and also even internationally. But then there was the
big political brouhaha when they where it was going to be donated to the University of the District of Columbia. And they were going to build a museum for it. And then Congress got involved in it and it became a big, you know, Jesse Helms
got up there and said that was the vaginas on plates thing… it was one of these typical things that happens in Congress about things on -- especially about art. Where somebody gets up and is talking about something that they've never
actually seen. And it's all based on here say and one little phrase or something like that. No real understanding of what was being done or what was being attempted. But that becomes an interesting issue.
The Dinner Party is now exclusively exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in the Sackler Center for feminist art wing since 2002. The Dinner Party comprises a massive ceremonial
banquet, arranged on a triangular table with a total of thirty-nine place settings, each commemorating an important woman from history.
Mr. Alexander’s opinion
on the involvement of government and specifically art education was this:
And the truth is I'm almost of the opinion the best thing in the world would be to get government
completely out of art altogether, because quite frankly I think it's not a good way. It's got an agenda. There's a social agenda. There's a political agenda to it. I think that, you know, go back to patronage. Go back to the idea of the corporate
sponsorship. And certainly in a capital society I think you can find plenty of people, finding corporations who would be very willing to do good quality art.
Ofra, as an artist wants to support herself and looks for ways to finance her work. But she finds it difficult to sustain herself, she voiced, “woman artist I wanted to be independent… So
I was always looking for ways to finance it and I started to do the public, outdoor sculptures. And also, I did some shows, curated shows, and I did catalogs. I designed catalogs. She explains how the current economy affects her creative production of art,
“I did create some smaller pieces that people put in offices, but my earlier works were more pieces that people can buy and put in their living room. I mean, I created what I wanted to create, but it was also catering to the taste of other people that
are potential buyers.
Auburn said the biggest economic problem was external to her control, she explains,
well of course
we’re in a recession now… I don’t want to say that they don’t care about art, but that is the last thing that they are concerned about purchasing, or going to a gallery event, or contemporary artwork... It has a lot to do with the
economy because, you know, artwork is something that comes with disposable income”.
For many decades women have been excluded in the patronage and consumption of art, this includes the economics of the art market. Investors
are seeking to buy art that has a particular market value and low chance of depreciation. Dr. Damian finds it may result in women artist getting over looked by investors. She suggests, “I’m thinking the powerful people with money, like the
corporate men, the Asian men, I hate to be stereotypical, but they want a certain type of art, something that is known. That’s where you get into the investment part of the art world… Should I invest in Jane Smith or should I invest in Jackson
The investment cycle affects the collector’s choices, the intentions and aspirations of those commissioning works, and
the reactions of contemporary viewers and owners. While Mr. Alexander, a certified art appraiser, and I were searching the World Wide Web for auction prices, we found the following information on some well established and well known women artist
works. On AskArt.com, as of this writing, top female artists in terms of total numbers of literature references were: Georgia O'Keeffe , Mary
Cassatt, Helen Frankenthaler , Louise Nevelson , Isabel
Bishop. The top female artists in order of strength of high-dollars-at-auction were: Georgia O'Keeffe ($6,166,000), Mary Cassatt ($4,072,500), Agnes Martin
($2,584,000) Eva Hesse ($2,202,000), Lee Krasner ($1,911,500) and Joan Mitchell ($1,463,500).
However, women still have catching up to do with men in the marketplace.
In contrast to the data above, AskArt.com indicates the highest auction prices world-wide
is $119,922,500 - Edvard Munch, the lowest price was $13,802,500 - Kees (Cornelis Theodorus Maria) Van Dongen. Out
of a list of 100 artists on their list, not one was a woman. According to this data, Women artists topped out at $6,166,000 - Georgia O'Keeffe.
Museums and Galleries
The women artists interviewed in this study talk about the experiences and issues they confront in the contemporary art market, gallery scene and the difficulties involved as a woman artist.
Commercial galleries are a business, and it has to be run like one. Galleries have an obligation to keep their doors open and pay expenses, to do so they need to sell artwork that clientele is willing to purchase.
Auburn asks herself,
“I started to kind of question, you know, as an artist, well, what direction my art work can go in if I’m not seeing an opportunity for me to be represented?”
As an opportunity to exhibit her work in the community,
Auburn participated in a Chicago “pop up gallery” recently, and had this to say about them, “They’ve really been kind of on community art-based [revivals]. What happens, when you take a building that no one has occupied, they’re
used to it being abandoned, and clear it out, put a wall in, and put in art. But that doesn’t really solve the problem.” The necessity of authenticity has driven this artist to extreme lengths to get her artwork to the public.
Ofra Friedman’s experience with galleries and displaying her art is this, “The gender issue that I found was in the outdoor. When I created outdoor sculptures, first of all most of the people that exhibited were male, but I found that it was limited”.
This is not a singular occurrence.
Cecilia Lueza discusses her recent experience with galleries and art competitions, and this is what she said, “I’m still having a hard
time finding a gallery…I have high standards and that's why this is kind of hard. I still feel that there’s a preference for a male artists”. She gives an example of a recent struggle getting represented, “these last four months
I have been preselected for four projects, but in the end all guys got the project -- all guys. I think they underestimate female artists”.
A similar situation exists in museums
as well. Some of the comments by the historians regarding the influence galleries and museums possess reaffirm the artist’s statements. Mr. Alexander had very insightful views on gallery and museum’s agendas. Mr. Alexander claims it’s a complicated
situation. He states, “You can't blame one facet of the structure. It's the whole social structure that somehow is skewed in some peculiar way…if you're going to be in a museum situation you have an obligation to tell the truth”. Because
of their plans he says, “I think what happens is the agenda sometimes gets in the way of the quality of what you do… if art isn't anything it should be honest”.
Dr. Charron comments on the influence the public school system has on museums, “I think it's standard practice historically. You're educating a whole younger generation on what counts as art. At the same time there's state standard curriculum. That's
why I teach college. I don't want the state to dictate the curriculum, and the teaching to the test…”
Similar to Dr. Charron’s comment regarding
the influence state sponsored standards have on student’s perspective, Mr. Alexander adds, “think about how many school field trips at any given year go to the state art museum where they learn which art matters…It's the museums decisions
of what they purchase for their collection and their need to get people in the door to attract the public.”
In regards to women represented in museums and galleries, Dr. Favis’
insight was, “Well, definitely the representation of women artists in museums improved, but it's still got a long way to go. And there's only a certain point to which you can improve it looking at historical art.” Dr. Favis said, “if
you look at the market. I mean the prices for women's art have begun to break some of the barrier…. Ana Mendieta is an artist that I love to talk about, who's also done performance art using the body and kind of nature imagery...I think you have to
include Cindy Sherman in the sense if you're looking at the business of the art market and looking at the ones who have made it in art, I think maybe [Sherman’s] the one that broke a record.”
Auburn Ellis, an artist participant and was also a past museum employee at the Art Institute of Chicago, with almost 10 years experience in the industry. Subsequently, she’s very familiar with what an exhibit looks like and she knows what is in
the vault and what is or is not on display. Auburn confirms, “Museums dictate what society deems as important or culturally relevant” Through Auburn’s experience she saw that in a traditional museum you definitely see a majority of
men represented. “Any time anyone is talking about a Sistine Chapel ceiling or some sort of great artwork that everyone knows about it’s hardly ever a woman that’s referenced. You know, it’s going to be a Pollack, or it’s going
to be a Picasso, or Monet… And so I think that we are not fully represented in museums at all. [Women] just have not been in the forefront of the museum community”.
The unrecognized museum and gallery agenda has cascading effects on how the market place displays, represents and markets artists. This is clearly linked to the marginalization of women artists in the Western art world. In today’s art world the historical
struggles and barriers that women were presented have only perpetuated. Even though women artist have opportunities available to them now, there are many obstacles women artists are still facing. Through the denial of equal opportunity to market their
works, competition is stifled. When competition is stifled mediocrity results.
SOME OF THE ACADEMIC HISTORIAN’S CLASSROOM PRACTICES
In the interviews with the historians and educators, I asked them to share some of the successful techniques that they use instructing a history course to the learner as a way to help guide the direction of your curricula and education philosophy. Below are
some of their answers:
Dr. Katherine Charron finds it helpful in reaching her goal to create a classroom community and icebreaker, she said, “On the first day
I ask [students] to interview the person sitting next to them. Then introduce them to the class. I want them to know each other’s names as much as possible”.
Another great technique Dr. Charron uses when beginning a course to help build community and to create a comfortable learning environment she has the students sign up to lead class discussion at least once during the semester. When they lead the discussion
she requires students to come up with four or five questions and email them to her in advance. The questions are on big themes of the course or readings. She explains, “I edit them and email them to the class. So, we all come to class ready to talk about
the same questions”. Her assignment is empowering and privileges the learner voice. The technique gets the student engaged with the topic and encourages them to participate in the discussion, because it will be their turn next.
Dr. Charron gets students to engage in discourse by having students reflect, “…in the woman’s history course I always do ‘what’s feminism?’ Tell me adjectives that describe a feminist to you? You get the typical ‘man
hating, dadada…. But by the end of the course you’re somewhere else”. This is a great way to have the learner challenge and question ideas, perspectives and philosophies of others and their own.
Art historian Mark Alexander, has a fantastic technique when assigning written projects, “I told them up front the entire class would read everybody else's paper”
after they did the research and the paper was reviewed by him “in a class of 30 people, as a student, you would get the benefit of 30 other people's research papers”. This is a way to engage students in the process of research. In addition
their role as researchers, it could serve as an important empowerment tool in terms of their own artistic identity development and an opportunity to show respect of the views and beliefs of others.
Mr. Alexander not only created community amongst his students, but he was establishing relationships, empowering and giving learners a voice. He believes, “As a teacher I found I could learn as much from my students, they could learn as much from each
other as they could from me. I was there as a guide. I wasn't there to, you know, say X, Y or Z. And hopefully that's what it should be about. Abraham Lincoln said it best -- all education is self-education.” and added, “I really want to give the
students a lot of ownership”.
Dr. Carol Damian goes about the introduction to her art history class and challenges
traditional art history views by giving her students an important historical perspective. For the first couple of weeks she discusses the Greco/Roman Gods and Goddesses in addition to feminist art and methodology. Dr. Damian explains why, “Because it’s
really important to students to understand how they got to this place”.
An exercise that Dr. Roberta Favis, does with her students at the start of her art history
course is to have the students pick up an Art magazine and have them read the reviews. This exercise promotes students to warm up to the art, artist and issues talked about currently. Another effective practice in her art history class she explains, “I
have them pick a male artist and a women artist from the same period. And compare what the situations were for those two artists, that wouldn't be their primary concentration”. The students were asked to consider their history to art history, what access,
what opportunities did the artists have or not have, what was their social situation in general? This activity improves the learners understanding of artists lives culturally so to improve understand of the meaning and aesthetics of the art and that period.
Mark Alexander did something similar to Dr. Favis, except Mr. Alexander had the students research living, contemporary artists. He would instruct the learner
and ask, “… here's the list and basically, you can choose one of these artists and you can find out -- I said most of these people are alive. You can even write to them, you know. You can even find out their mailing address and a lot of them did”.
There are more women art students in higher education than men across the board nationally and internationally, what
the problem here is the gender ratio of formally educated art students today does not correlate with the market place/employment ratio. The underrepresentation of women in the market place remains a struggle. While women are no longer denied aesthetic
knowledge or admission to art education, we women artists remain underrepresented in galleries, museums and in the work place today.
It remains a vicious cycle, if female
artists aren’t as successful as male artist, then it affects the collectors and investors choices, their intentions and aspirations. The gender ratio of success directly impacts who gets the commissions and who gets the attention of contemporary viewers
and owners. Historically speaking, school field trips to the state art museums teach children what art is relevant and important. It is the museum’s choice of what to purchase and exhibit so they will attract the public and subsequently keep their doors
open. Until this chain of behavior is no longer problematic and women artists consistently receive the merit for their artistic skills and talents, we will continue to compete with gendered representational statistics.
 Holy Bible Genesis 3:8-11