From Muse to Maker

{Miss-printed in Missy/Ink Magazine’s 13th issue about Art and was properly released to their online version here : }

It’s hard to believe in the early 17th Century most women were hidden from the art community or pushed aside as artists and only remembered and recorded as muses.

Only 400 years later and women are no longer just the object of inspiration, but coming up in the art world full force being revered and idolized by any who witness their work. Female artists of the 21st Century can now be found in any category of art whether it’s still life, portraiture, nude, landscape or abstract.

As beautiful as the thought of being a muse is – being the inspiration and pulling out the beauty in the artist’s heart. There is a bit of tragedy in it. It’s rare to hear of women artists’ only women muses when it comes to our history. Even more tragic is when there is a woman artist who broke through the barriers and is still left out of the recorded history and needs to be searched out.

Many recollections of the history of art that were written during the 17th and 18th Century leave out women and are only interested in the male artists. Sofonisba Anguissola is one of these women. According to her biography with the National Museum of Women in the Arts her fame was international at the beginning in of her career in 1550 and slowly faded in the 18th Century when some of her paintings were even attributed to male artists instead of as hers. This has changed since the days of pushing women artists aside and Sofonisba Anguissola’s works have now been rightly attributed as her creations instead of the men who were wrongfully credited for them. Her pieces of art started to get recognition again in the 1970’s when the feminist era took full bloom and both feminists and historians were shedding light that painting was an acceptable career for women.

Robin Held, art curator and executive director of Reel Grrls based in Seattle brought light to women being left out of historical books in the article A New and Necessary Normal in CityArts magazine, “In the current edition of H.W. Janson’s textbook, History of Art, only 27 women are represented—that’s up from zero in the 1980s. As American artists and activists the Guerilla Girls point out, less than three percent of the artists in the Modern Art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 83 percent of the museum’s nudes are female.”

H.W. Janson was a Harvard graduate and a professor at New York University. His book History of Art was first published in 1962 and didn’t have any women artists in it until his son Anthony F. Janson altered the book in 1986 and again in 1991.

Not only are women now being added to historical books, but they are also receiving awards.

Female artists like Louise Bourgeois who won the International Association of Art Critic’s award for Best Monographic Museum Show in New York City in 2008 are proof of this change. It shows that despite women’s less then equal percentage of art being displayed, their art is still being honoured, respected and shown that it can and will be seen as equal.

The Hnatyshyn Foundation is a private charity that is named in honour of Ramon John Hnatyshyn who was Canada’s twenty-fourth Governor General. In 2013, the Hnatyshyn Foundation awarded 3 winners with the Charles Pachter Prize for Emerging Artists. All 3 winners for the award were female. The winners included Adreanne Godin whose materials include graphite, colour pencil, watercolour, chalk and wool and is of emotional landscapes. Kim Kielhofner also received the award and her art is mainly video journals, but Kielhofner also draws and has created artists books. Marlene Renaud was the third winner of the award and her art is performance, art intervention, sculpture as well as video. All three women have different roles in the art community and were each honoured with the award.

Award ceremonies aren’t the only aspect that women are advancing. According to Forbes an oil painting by Berthe Morisot named Après le déjeuner sold on February 6, 2013 for £6,985,250, which translates to $12,486,343 CND. This made a new world auction record for female artists.

In the 17th and 18th Century women weren’t just left out of the galleries and books, but they were banned from institutions and traditional teaching methods of art. Women weren’t allowed to be in the presence of a nude model never mind being allowed to paint one. A woman in the 17th Century was ridiculed and laughed at even by her husband when she painted beautiful men or even if she dared a woman and was never taken seriously or respected.

This created a stigma in the art community leaving only the landscapes and still life to be left for the women to paint.

This can’t be further from the truth today. There are no longer rules that say men can’t be muses or a woman can’t look upon another naked woman and find beauty. With art always changing, so does its stigmas.

Schools like OCAD University in Toronto (Ontario College of Art and Design) have helped pave the way for educating both women and men in the arts. We have gone from females not being allowed to go to traditional educational outlets to the female population at OCAD University being 3075 to only 1511 males in the 2012-1013 year. Barriers are being broken and smashed to pieces.

OCAD University isn’t the only school in Canada that shows more women are taking classes in the arts. Statistics Canada shows in the 2011-2012 year 52,686 women in Canada were enrolled in Visual and performing arts, and communication technology programs where only 31,941 males were enrolled.

Female artists are getting recognition and are becoming known and are even surpassing the men when it comes to innovations in art.

Famous painter Ghada Amer is known for her work with embroidery and watercolours.

Ghada Amer said in her artist statement to the Brooklyn Museum, “The history of art was written by men, in practice and in theory. Painting has a symbolic and dominant place inside this history, and in the twentieth century it became the major expression of masculinity, especially through abstraction. For me, the choice to be mainly a painter and to use the codes of abstract painting, as they have been defined historically, is not only an artistic challenge: its main meaning is occupying a territory that has been denied to women historically. I occupy this territory aesthetically and politically because I create materially abstract paintings, but I integrate in this male field a feminine universe: that of sewing and embroidery.”

Ghada Amer’s work can be seen throughout the world, she has had exhibitions in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Indianapolis and New York.

Another famous painter is Angelina Wrona. She is known for her doe-eyed edgy and sometimes dark women in beautiful and intriguing situations. Her artwork has earned recognition internationally between her fans, collectors and curators.

A woman’s piece of art is now shown and taken with as much seriousness as any other painters. Chief Executive Officer at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario Gabrielle Peacock said, “Just like that of other professions women have broken through the boundaries and the work is judged on the art itself not who painted it.”

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery has a rich history of women artists. Isabel McLaughlin was the daughter of Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin who the Gallery was named after and she was an integral part of the gallery’s history. Isabel McLaughlin attended the Ontario College of Art (now called OCAD University) from 1925-1927 and was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and a member of the Ontario Society of Artists. Isabel donated works out of her own personal collection, as well as donations for expansions to the gallery.

Alexandra Luke was a founding member of the Painters Eleven and organized the first Canadian all-abstract exhibition. Alexandra Luke married Isabel McLaughlin’s cousin C. Ewart McLaughlin. Both Alexandra and Ewart donated works of art as well as money to help build the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

“The Robert McLaughlin Gallery wouldn’t have grown without the support of those two female painters [Isabel McLaughlin and Alexandra Luke] and because of them we have one of the largest collections of art from the Painters Eleven in the world,” said Gabrielle Peacock.

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa currently has 4000 pieces of art in their collection and 875 of those works are pieces by females.

When you think of women and art you no longer just think of her as a muse you think of all the future and past paintings women will continue to create.

The women of the 21st Century aren’t finished yet, they aren’t going stop until they make sure things change to be fully equal and stay that way.

Galleries, historical recollections, books and even just perspectives will continue to give women an equal opportunity in the art world.

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