Contradictions of Women in the Arts

Contradictions of Women in the Arts

In art’s vast canvas, women’s voices often muted, talents overlooked. Despite adversity, their resilience reshapes artistic expression and redefines inclusion.

Systemic Devaluation of Women in Art

An inescapable facet of a woman’s life is her intrinsic value within society. Today, the art world remains predominantly male-dominated, a trend deeply intertwined with the systemic devaluation of women. While men’s pursuits in art are often revered as respected professions, women’s artistic endeavors are frequently relegated as hobbies. This disparity highlights broader issues such as the wage gap, pervasive stereotypes, and disparities in educational opportunities, all of which perpetuate biases against women in the art scene.

History of Male Dominance: Art and Mythology 

There is the common understanding especially in western culture that female artists are often undermined when faced against male artists. This applies to all forms of art, from painting and sculpture to film and music. Looking at the origins, in much of Western folklore the deities related to the arts are male.

© Mateus Campos Felipe via unsplash

In Greek/Roman mythology, Apollo, in Norse mythology, Bargi (Barge), in Irish mythology, Abhean, etc. When thinking of art movements like the Renaissance to Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, the artists that are recognized as the face of these movements are almost always male. And yet many times it is these artists who were greatly inspired by women. 

Paradox of Female Representation in Art: Impressionism

There are a myriad of contradictions faced by women in the art world. A common occurrence in western art is the commemoration of women as muses. Much art throughout history has been inspired by women and their beauty. However this can be a double edged sword. Much like social media today.

The depictions of women we see historically in paintings, sculptures, literature and music are often romanticized and idealized to portray the desires of men. This further objectifies women and reduces them to objects of inspiration, taking away recognition and depriving them from their own creativity and artistic agency. 

Olympia by Édouard Manet, 1863, in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.

For instance most impressionist figure painting utilizes female figures to further emphasize the softness and almost mysterious nature popularized in impressionism. Edouard Manet, one of the pioneering forces on the transition from realism to impressionism. fashioned figurative paintings that depicted women more often than not in unique social contexts. “Olympia”(1863), was one such painting that was highly controversial during the time.

The topic of prostitution, while integral to Parisian Culture in the 1800s, was still a secretive subject. This open display of female nudity, as empowering as it may be now and was exceedingly scandalous then. And although it is hard to know Victorine Meurent’s thoughts when deciding to model for this painting, one can assume that regardless of the eroiticism a prostitute is meant to have, displaying oneself in such an open stance is still vulnerable to a certain extent. 

The Paradigm of Women in the Art ReAlm

Women are made to be vulnerable, this idea perpetuated by male belief is something that is often taken advantage of in paintings depicting women. There is no shortage of artwork depicting women in a subservient position, reduced to a damsel in distress, or seductive archetype.

Many times these portrayals in essence make women out to be a villain, a child, a mother or a combination of these. The reduction of to these roles in society, supports the devaluation that they face especially in the art scene, as it is the people in this realm that tend to have the most access to media. 

“A man does only a man’s work. A female artist must be a superwoman, someone of two selves. One performs the work she is called by God to do while the other fulfills the womanly obligations our culture sets upon her.”

Suanne Schafer

Mainstream male artists today maintain this image, Damien Hirst and his sculptural work of pregnant women exemplifies this. There are a few of these statues, depicting a nude pregnant woman with an otherwise athletic build. One in North Devon, England called “Verity” holds a sword. Claiming to be an allegory for truth and justice.

It takes inspiration in terms of stance from Degas’s “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” much like Hirst’s other piece “The Virgin Mother” at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. These sculptures in a literal sense could be perceived as a mother. In an artistic sense takes inspiration from a figure of a child. And could even be attached to a villainous perspective, depending on the viewer. 

Towards an Inclusive Art World

The intersection of politics and art is a lofty station. Female artists were erased in dialog regarding classical art and its history, but that is not to say that no women were artists during the time. The conversation of female representation in art has only recently been addressed with a feminist point of view. While historically women have been interlinked with art and creativity, it has more often been reduced to household craft.

The femininity that is common with female artists is not taken as seriously, as the brutality and virility in art works done by their male counterparts. Moreover this ongoing discourse regarding the gender inequality in the art world which challenges the biases, both historical and current, is crucial to creating a more inclusive and equitable artistic landscape. 

Today women in the art world…

Despite women’s contribution to the arts they are often erased when it comes to participating in leadership positions within the space. According to The National Museum of Women in Art, despite the fact that Women take up a majority of spots when it comes to a formal education in fine arts in the U.S. only 46% of them have become working artists. To add to that this gender inequality extends to careers past those of an artist. According to a survey conducted by The Mellon Foundation,   (Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018) found that women lack leadership positions in art museums despite being a majority of the working staff.  

Women in the arts nowadays

The intervention of social media within this sphere brings a whole new set of nuances into the conversation. The polarization between male and female artists is highlighted when looking at their outreach on social media platforms like instagram. Banksy being the most followed visual artist with 12.3 million followers stands miles above the most followed female artist in the platform, that being Yoko Ono with 648k followers.

Moreover, men take up the top 12 spots of the most followed visual artists on instagram. This polarization between men and women in the art scene barely brushes the issues of divide created in our society, further explored in Die Polarisierungen In Der Gesellschaft. There are additional topics of concern, such as racial inequality within this sphere, and the lesser addressed value of women of color in the art scene. 

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