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.