Tuesday, December 15, 2009

art as a social activity


Over the past few years I've idly wondered why three-quarters of the people in art workshops, on arts councils, who teach art, etc., are women, whereas three-quarters of artists represented in galleries are men. I lamely concluded that changes in gender politics on an economic/business level were simply lagging behind what was happening socially. The glass ceiling and all that. That may be true, but it never occurred to me that because men and women are different animals socially, how we approach art making and art networking might also be different. This Robert Genn letter and the clickbacks explore the question at length.

One reason I've had trouble figuring this out is my own (unique) experience as an artist. When I was a kid (back in the dark ages of no electricity and walking uphill ten miles both to and from school), my mother would pick up four thick pads of writing paper every month at $1.49 Day. This paper would usually last my brothers and me until the next $1.49 Day. We would spend hours sitting companionably at the kitchen table, drawing lengthy, meticulous comic strips of our favourite fantasy worlds, and discussing what we were doing. Actually, it was more like three running monologues. It baffled our mother but also delighted her, as it kept us out of her hair for hours at a time. (I think she wished we could bring such dedication to our studies, sports or earning potential. Hell, a little attention to personal hygiene would even have gone farther than filling drawers, tables and waste baskets with our scribbles.) In any case, my first experiences with art were definitely social -- and with boys.

I didn't end up like most women, though, in more ways than one. I was a Girl Politics dropout in high school and still am. Just ask my neighbours. It doesn't mean that I'm not friendly, it's just that I do my best learning in private and am terrible at event organizing. It's almost like I lack the female gene for that sort of thing. I don't take workshops and I don't teach them. It's certainly not that I don't believe in them -- I do! -- it's just that I, personally, get more meaning and pleasure out of solitary exploration. (I also love maps and hate asking for directions.) I find the presence of others highly distracting and get either overstimulated or bored very easily. All these traits, from the lack of understanding of female social rituals to the need to "do it myself!" are more prevalent in the male of the species.

Strong, aggressive, independent women artists like Hazel Dooney have made the male/solitary aspects of their characters work for them and their careers in spades, but I have that overpowering feminine need to nurture (i.e. kids, family, etc.) as well, and find myself in a constant state of priority conflict. For my entire life I have been dealing with square-peg-in-round-hole syndrome and that has extended to my current life as an artist, though many people think that being an artist means ignoring social conventions. I wish! As an artist who operates very much like a man in the social sphere I have two strikes against me: the so-called social historical disadvantages of being a woman and, paradoxically,
a disinterest in social networking with my 'own kind'. I hate thinking I'm a victim, though, so continuing to work silently in my studio, hoping that perspiration and inspiration will win the day, seems to be my best option. I guess there's a kind of purity of purpose to it, but it can be lonely. (God bless the interwebs for helping fill that void!)

16-12-09 Thanks to Melody and Facebook, I just discovered this.

14 Comments:

Blogger Kelly said...

That's very interesting. I have some (not all) of these same traits. I remember reading the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and thinking, "Hey wait, the Mars description fits ME!" I also recently read somewhere that the Aspergerish and autistic brain could also be thought of as the extreme male brain.

15/12/09 4:27 PM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Sounds familiar!

15/12/09 4:28 PM  
Blogger paula said...

ditto...maybe women artists are similar in these ways more so than not. i've always been a loner yet craved interaction. lots of male/female traits are switched in me...my art reflects that. i often wonder why more men show/sell more and like you said, aren't as 'involved' or do all those workshops. maybe it doesn't matter...i just wish i knew how to break the code and get the art more into the world instead of one gallery here and there.
and like you, i've hoped...perspiration and inspiration blah blah blah. mostly i think it is ALL who you know. relationships and word of mouth!

15/12/09 6:04 PM  
Blogger Donn said...

You pose a very interesting riddle. I've always wondered why males still dominate women's fashion?

Well I believe that the gender tide is turning. Not only are there more women on Earth, but 60% of University students are female and the workplace is on a much more level playing field now that information is the currency.

I can understand how we got here. As we evolved, the dimorphic size difference gave the edge to males in order to protect the clan and kill prey. Now technology is replacing brute strength.

Since we are all formed as default females it stands to reason that our best chance at success would be to utilize the attributes of our original template.

Now it won't happen as quickly in the parts of the world where religious misogynists rule and their chief weapon is to restrict girls from getting an education, but in the secular developed world, I don't think that anything can or should stop progress.

Males have made a senseless, bloody, mess of it throughout recorded history and far beyond. So much energy has been spent on needless bloodshed. Our history is a pathetic collection of death and destruction.

I look forward to the feminization of our estates..maybe then we will have a chance at being around in the next century.

16/12/09 6:08 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Kelly: I like the idea that any 'disorder' is really just an extreme end of the behavioural spectrum, so the suggestion that an Aspergers or autistic brain is extreme male appeals to me a lot. And it does make some sense!

Dinah: I knew you'd get it.

Paula: If you read the Robert Genn letter there is a good response form a woman artist who's always "gone it alone". And if pretty watercolour paintings of flowers are female art, then you are definitely expressing a different side of femininity! I love that.

Donn: There's one factor that holds everything hostage, and it's what happens to the female ability to focus on their life's work once they have children. There are lots of examples of women who are able to just get back to it, but I think there are more of us who are surprised when we have kids by how much it changes our focus/priorities. It can mess with that unstinting, unbroken, laser-like dedication that is usually needed for real growth and success.

16/12/09 8:33 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

This is a fascinating post! Not sure I understand it ... but I find myself the other way around ... I'm a male with female tendencies! I've explored this a lot in works that I've never shown anyone. Maybe 'gender' is a spectrum that we move back and forth along. Dunno really.

16/12/09 10:48 AM  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

Well written, and so familiar.

16/12/09 12:20 PM  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

Thinking about it further, I blame these anti-social tendencies more on basically being an only child.

16/12/09 1:26 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Peter: I totally believe that gender is a spectrum thing. Have you ever noticed that good partnerships tend to have two fairly androgynous partners *or* a very male partner coupled with a very female partner? Both cases achieve a sort of balance, don't they?

Angela: In my case, I have brothers so I can't blame that, but I do seem to have heightened sensitivity to stimuli -- so I blame that instead! :)

16/12/09 1:32 PM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Came back to read other comments.I hear things like this in various places (mostly the web!), NEVER from people here. Even "artists" are wives first, artists ( a poor) second.
I hope Donn's point about information being a common currency holds true.

PS The sound on Melody's link is broken

16/12/09 5:01 PM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I'm definitely a social woman person but get my best work done solo. I rarely take workshops - mainly because they never fit into my schedule.

I was thinking about the ratio of women to men in my landscape program - it's tilted about 60% women to 40% men. According to my professors, that's a newer trend. But it also follows general university trends. More women than men are getting bachelors and masters degrees and I just read yesterday that for the first time, women matched men's statistics for receiving doctorates. I'm not sure why it's taken so long.

I just returned to the masters program after dropping out in 2005 because it was too hard to be a mom at the same time. I returned this year since my daughter is in middle school and doesn't need me quite as much any more. I keep up with some of my former classmates. One of them is a man who has a daughter the same age as mine. His wife worked, yet he seemed to have all the time in the world to be in the studio etc. I asked him how he did it? His mother in law was their built in baby sitter. No wonder - I guess I needed the same to survive that first time around. I needed a wife. ;-)

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I didn't stay on topic - but I think there is a gender difference. But, it doesn't hold true for everyone! There are always exceptions to rules....

21/12/09 8:49 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

PS I would add that most powerhouse super star landscape architects are male. Again - there are exceptions and the times are a'changing.

21/12/09 8:50 AM  
Blogger Veronica Funk said...

I felt like I was reading my own journal - and fortunately have finally connected with a group of women artists who understand and give me my space. Last summer I was invited to participate in an Emma Lake Collaborative, and though I'd absolutely love to go, I hate to leave my family, hate the idea of bunking with others, and the thought of working all day with others, as creative and fabulous as they are, exhausts me just thinking about it, so I turned it down. It's good to hear that I'm not an anomaly.

23/12/09 8:30 AM  
Blogger Valerie A. Heck said...

Nice post, I tend to be very independent and like to be able to do things myself. Hopefully that will help me in my art.

27/12/09 7:47 PM  

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