WHAT HAPPENED TO FAMOUS WOMEN ARTISTS ?
The list of famous women artists is quite short compared to male artists. This list is limited not by a lack of talent but lack of opportunities for women to excel in the field of art. A number of social and economic factors are responsible for the lack of opportunities, especially in the past.
A small set of women who rose to prominence, scaling the heights of grandeur reached by the masters like Rembrandt or Picasso, despite various obstacles, are heroes to inspire other women painters. But they too had common striking characteristics. They were all the daughters of artist fathers or in the 19th and 20th centuries, enjoyed a close personal connection to a strong, dominant male artistic personality.
From legendary 13th century sculptor-artist, Sabina Von Steinbach to Rosa Bonheur, the most famous animal painter of the 19th century and famous women artists like Artemisia Gentileschi and Angelica Kauffmann, were all daughters of artists. 19th century artists, Berthe Morisot was close to Manet and Mary Cassatt was close to Degas.
Modern famous women artists have been able to break the traditional shackles and have been able to strike out on their own without a male figure backing them. They include names like Suzanne Valadon, Paula Modersohn- Becker, Louise Nevelson who have come from non-artistic backgrounds.
It is an interesting fact that many famous women artists have benefitted from encouraging fathers. Both Barbara Hepworth and Kathe Kollowitz pay tribute to the encouragement they got from their fathers.
Most famous women artists who opt for their artistic careers have exhibited a streak of individuality, in the past and the present. Most certainly, she needs to have had a strong rebellious streak to make her way into the world of art, shedding her traditional role limited to the home and the kitchen.
The world of art, often upheld a beacon of egalitarianism, is accused by many for preferring men over women. For instance in a prominent art gallery like the Tate Modern, less than 8% of the works are by women artists. Women comprise 60% of art students but only account for 30% of exhibits in London’s galleries.
This is a fact that has been taken up with much fervor by a group of feminist activists called as Gorilla Girls who combat sexism in the art place using impactful visuals and a sense of humor. Founded in 1985, they have come to be noted for their unusual style of visuals.
They usually descend upon art galleries wearing Gorilla masks and assuming names of dead female artists, they collect evidence of sexism in the art world. A 1989 poster by the group poses the question: ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met?” This was to point to the fact that less than 5% of the modern section of the Met comprised of works by female artist but 85% of the nude images were of women. Also despite activism in the last 20 years, the percentage of famous women artists had declined.
One explanation is described as ‘the male gaze’: that in most forms of visual art we are looking with the perspective of a heterosexual male. Famous women artist have tried to break free form the male gaze phenomenon and produce unique, exquisite pieces of art.
In sum, famous women artists have emerged from the bondages created by the society and have contributed a unique voice in the world of art. Traditionally they have emerged with the help of dominant, influential male personalities but today they have broken free from the need for an artistic background.