A recent article in the Guardian about how women get shorted in the art market prompts me to reflect on how I see the situation. I’m gong to pause long enough to reflect on whether I actually want to achieve success on mens’ terms.
To me, money is not the whole story. It’s not even half. Not that I don’t want to make money from my art. I love selling my work but it’s not the end-all and be-all. Women as artists are spilling with creativity. I don’t define myself by only one branch of creativity–i cook, I write, I pot around the garden and all of this, I like to think, feeds my identity in a wholesome and sane way.
I am also keenly aware that women artists are among the most influential teachers of creativity in the world today. I’ll name you a few thanks to their prodigious output of art and writing: Michelle Cassou, Deborah Koff-Chapin, Alicia Bay Laurel, Natalie Goldberg, to name a few. These women artist are influencing way beyond their immediate circle of family and friends for generations to come. But even those women artists like my Plymouth-Devon embroiderer artist friend, Beryl Coles, was at peace knowing that her art was a way of recycling and improving upon the gorgeous moor walks she took in nature’s backyard.
Our role as catalysts to the creativity of many people in our lives can’t be quantified in money. What we do when we make art is broadcast a message that art matters in our lives. Our value system is guided by an internal belief and faith that our creativity serves a broader good that we may not even realize in our lives. I believe that most of us women artists never are “recognized” in any conventional definition of success because frankly, we’re just not into playing the game. In order to play the gallery and museum game you have to find your gimmick and stay with it. Gimmicks are soul-rotting. Just look at Kusama’s polka-dots. Are we really to believe that painting red and white polka dots year in and out advances our soul agenda? Sorry, I don’t and I’ve stood before enough of Yayoi Kusama’s garish sculptures to see how beautifully marketable and instantly recognizable is her product. Not by any fault of her own. Kusama lives in a mental hospital, where art is her lifeline and her passion, which again makes me wonder whether her genuine, non-negotiable, and beautifully egoless attachment to the creative process isn’t the main point. If we can become famous without letting our egos get involved, we will not be pulled down by the harshness and fickleness of the art world climate.
I love the creative process because I am answerable only to myself from start to finish. This freedom from the pressures of the market, from sales and preparing for expensive and capricious gallery sales that may or may not happen, reminds me that as long as art nourishes me, it has proven its value in my life. But I have to admit. I do art when I give myself creativity time. It’ not a given. Time more than money is what I struggle most to find. Not that I don’t have time, but it’s too easy to fritter it on less meaningful activities.
That’s why a woman artist’s inspiration is so needed. How to recognize and elevate the time we give to our creativity? From Kusama Yayoi, we can learn from her example. Pursue art with a passion, like it really matters.
As a former feature writer for Women Artist News, the first New York City art magazine devoted to rectify the injustice in the reporting of art new from a male slant, I have softened my views over the last 30 years as I moved from being an arts reporter to an artist myself.
By the way, who are the gallery owners? Women. Who are the curators? Women again. Who write the art reviews. Women. Then again who decorates rooms and corridors with art? Women. It’s not that men aren’t big players in making or breaking art careers but the power we have to change things should not be underestimated!