The Big Pink Theory
As I walked through the many rooms of the museum showing some of the most widely recognised artists in history, I couldn’t help but think that I am not the intended audience. I am looking through the male gaze for the male gaze. I felt this way for good reason, statistically over four out of five artists being shown in permanent collections in US Museums are white men! We are raised envisioning the stereotypical ‘artist’ figure as this image that has been engrained on us since childhood. The reference to great art as having been created by the ‘masters’ is exclusionary, it further relegates women as the mere object of art through the male gaze rather than as the creators. This bias and disparity is clearly visible in the museums and reflects upon the art market. Three of the most visited museums in the world, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have never had female directors.
Fig.1 Louise Bourgeois, Spider Woman 2004.
Although all changes start at the bottom rung of the ladder, the higher powers and most influential people in the art industry must tear open the canon of art as we now know it and realise that the key to change is through critical practice. Directors of galleries, art museums and influential critics dictate what is taken seriously in the world of art and have a huge influence on the art market. They should advertise and show more female made art, prioritise this shift in perception and take the steps necessary to change the bias of a predominantly male art market. It has been proven that a male signature of a work will immediately increase market value whereas the opposite applies for women.
Another issue to be tackled is that for many years, art was made by men intended for the male gaze. So much of what we now refer to as ‘great art’ was either intentionally or subconsciously misogynistic. Women were used for the sole purpose of being a ‘muse’, a place for a man to draw inspiration from. If this tactic was ever made in reverse it would have been laughed at and not taken serious. These obscure gender roles in terms of creating art are somewhat carried through to the present. It may not be as obvious as it once was, but it can be seen in the way male artists are taken much more seriously than women in the same field. The main problem that all these issues stem from is that women’s thoughts and ideas are not considered as important as men’s. The future generations must have a more open and unbiased view of gender roles. The new generation of children and adults coming into big inheritances can also shift the whole art market, most likely they will be trying to get much more diverse collections to their parents before them.
Fig.2 Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holoferness, 1612.
Art is meant to be a space of freedom and creativity. It is about pushing boundaries and bringing on changes in how people think. It is a language that cannot be described in words. I see many changes being made to create more equality. Art Review published a list of the 100 most influential people in the contemporary art world in 2018 and 40% named were women. This is a huge step in the right direction in drawing attention to some of the amazing female artists that are breaking down the barriers that history has built up. Despite the disparity, women continue to create great art, which proves that the market is the driver of the discriminatory element, whereas a true artist regardless of gender will continue to create art for art’s sake.
With her paintbrush, as in her life, Artemisia Gentileschi fought gender inequality and helped to reimagine womanhood and what it meant to be a female artist. She was a feminist artist before the term was invented. Judy Chicago was an artist that pioneered the feminist art movement. Her most famous installation was ‘The Dinner Party’(1974-1979), This consisted of a series of Entryway Banners, the ceremonial table representing 39 important historical female figures, the Heritage Panels, which elucidate the contributions of the 999 women on the Heritage Floor, and the Acknowledgement Panels that identify Judy Chicago’s assistants and collaborators. Together, these components celebrate the many aspects of women’s history and contributions. Louise Bourgeois was another strong feminist artist that set the precedent for many of todays female artists, although she did not call herself a feminist artist and from looking at most of her work you would not be able to place her gender. Women artists like this paved the way for many famous female creators today. Although we cannot change the canon of art history because most women did not get any recognition for work that was made, we can create a platform for todays female artists and lift them up to be added to the canon of ‘masters’ for future generations.
Fig.3 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-1979.
The key to change is critical practice, we must not only look at the canon differently but to go deeper and challenge it. A critical review of practice would demand a conscious revision of awareness towards gender identity to transform stereotypes. In general women are underrepresented in both the present day as practicing artists and in the historical canon of famous names we all know as great artists. As a young female artist starting to navigate the art world as it is today, I would like to believe that, when coming out of university and entering this industry that is the art world, that I would at least be entering in on a level playing field as my male counterparts.