Did you know that March is Women's History Month? To celebrate the work of just a few talented female artists, gallerists, collectors and advisors that work in the arts, we've created a Women in Art magazine. If you like this article, follow the link below for more.
To celebrate International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we've created an online magazine packed with insights, stories and art by women within the art world. As a part of this project, we invited Cathelijne Blok to comment on women in art today.
Cathelijne is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The TittyMag, a feminist art collective which offers a space for discussion on art, young creative talent and inclusive feminism through their website, social channels, podcast and inspirational talks. She has a Master’s in Film, Video and Photographic Arts from Leiden University.
The Next Feminist Wave, Cathelijne Blok
“Why have there been no great women artists?” asked Linda Nochlin in 1973 in ARTnews magazine. “If, as John Stuart Mill so rightly suggested, we tend to accept whatever is as "natural," this is just as true in the realm of academic investigation as it is in our social arrangements: the white Western male viewpoint, unconsciously accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian, is proving to be inadequate."
Here we are, years later, in the next feminist wave, and it seems that gender equity in the art world is on the horizon. Focused efforts are being made to collect or exhibit work by women artists. But are we really there yet? It’s a question I ask myself frequently while walking in museums, art fairs or looking at artists Instagram accounts. It’s even the reason I started calling myself a feminist in the first place.
Feminism can be adapted and diluted to mean different things to different people, but for me it’s all about equality. Six years ago I didn't call myself a feminist, because I thought it wasn't necessary. This changed when I started researching female photographers. After looking at their work, I questioned myself. How did these female artists see themselves, and the women they portrayed? Was their answer any different because of their gender and cultural background? Their creative work was the beginning of an interesting dialogue with my inner self. Would I be able to separate my own womanhood and privilege from my thinking and the way I act in society? Is it even possible to separate those words; female and artist? It’s one of the reasons I founded a feminist art platform, The TittyMag, to start a dialogue on inclusive feminism.
These days museums are creating exhibitions and solo shows of emerging female artists. In the artworld, collectors and buyers are paying closer attention to and creating awareness on equality, and last year at the 2019 edition of The Venice Biennale, gender parity was finally achieved, with 53% women artists. It all finally seems to add up to greater recognition for women in art. Of course you can question whether an artist wants to be viewed through the lens of gender, and likewise, if creating an all-women’s group show is the best way to highlight inequality. But important initiatives like these can help shine a spotlight on previously overlooked artists whose work was had been boxed out by dominant man.
During a panel discussion, hosted by The TittyMag at Affordable Art Fair Amsterdam last November, one of our speakers pointed out that it all starts with education. To drive change, we need to include everyone at an early age, showing them that they can truly become and do whatever they want, regardless of their gender or cultural background. But when I recall the first art history books I read, they didn’t include everyone at all! I mainly saw West European and North American male artists, with a tiny chapter at the end on ‘feminist art’. Almost all the art history “must reads” were written from the subjective and dominant male western perspective, which majorly influences our perspective on (art) history. For example only 27 women out of around 318 artists are represented in the 9th edition of H.W. Janson’s survey, Basic History of Western Art—up from zero in the 1980s. That’s quite strange.
But how can female artists from all backgrounds simply be “reinserted”? For example, one of the world’s most important museums, New York’s MoMA, made a huge step towards a more inclusive representation when they recently boosted their collection of works by women and artists of colour. The non-chronological pairing of Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die (1967) and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) in MoMA’s cubism room became hotly debated, with art historian Jack McGrath stating “Indeed, the collision is so seismic – and the Ringgold so large and saturated – that viewers scarcely notice the other canvases in the room. There is, after all, the urgency of Ringgold’s subject matter. Who, in 2019, when faced with such a powerful depiction of a racialized mass shooting, could possibly care about the finer points of spatial illusionism?”
Only 29% of the winners of the famous art award, the Turner Prize, have been women. The 2017 winner, Lubaina Himid stated “Being the first black woman was a bit bittersweet, because there are many black women that have been up for it in the recent history of the prize… I was happy to win it, but it was bittersweet. What people have said to me is that it gave people hope that things were changing."
If we take a closer look at the industry itself, women make up a majority of professional art museum staff but despite recent gains, they remain underrepresented in important leadership positions. The top three most influential museums in the world; the Louvre, the British Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art have still never had female directors.
There isn’t a simple answer to how we can really represent all women in the arts. Striving for an equal split of male and female artists or directors isn't enough, but it’s a start. For me, the next step is to bring more voices into the artworld. We must work towards greater representation and diversity, on every level of the art industry, from artists and gallerists, to collectors and curators. We live in times where we need to support one another by raising our voices and not just accept what is “natural”. And, we now have the opportunity to create both online and offline movements, using social media as a powerful tool for a more inclusive perspective.
The online space gives us a broader, critical and more inclusive perspective on art. Most importantly female artists finally have a platform where they are in control. By actively taking part in this dialogue we can help increase awareness and initiate interesting dialogue, helping us to see our own world through the eyes of others. It can lead to the important change we’ve all been waiting for, for a very long time.
Huge thanks to Cathelijne for this fantastic insight. For more insightful articles, read the Women in Art magazine and join us in celebrating the stories of women in the art industry, to mark International Women's Day and Women's History Month. Alternatively, if you'd like to browse some exceptional artworks by female artists, we've created a Women in Art curated collection.