The Plight of Women in the Arts
I’m aware that this article is from my perspective as a white woman and I do not feel it is my place to speak on behalf of all of those who identify as female, as all experiences within the arts are different. I hope this article, however, can generate discussion and raise awareness of some issues surrounding the experiences of women in the arts.
“You won’t be successful in the arts because you’re a female” proclaimed a boy I was seeing as an art student fresher . Obviously, this romance dwindled faster than you could call him a misogynistic arsehole, but the sentiment remained ingrained in my mind. I thought this would be a one-off event, a flippant remark from an arrogant prick, but it wasn’t. I was to hear this exact statement reiterated in various forms throughout my time at art school, and once even repeated by a fellow gal art student. Have men have really belittled us so much that we actually believe their ludicrous reasoning that less boys in art school equals easily finding success? This harmful rhetoric is instilled within artistic institutions and repeated by students alike. Women have been silenced within art history for centuries, rendered a mere counterpart to the successful male artist.
I am, however, given hope by shifts within the arts, towards a more female orientated narrative. For example, whilst studying History of Art, I was made aware of recent academic research which disproves Marcel Duchamp as the primary conceptual thinker of the ‘readymade’. It suggests that he stole the invention from the Dada Baroness, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
Imagine, such a pinnacle moment in art history was created by a female. What would this mean for the rest of art history? What other significant female artists have been erased from the narrative to give rise to the voices of male protagonists? Just the other day I stumbled across an Instagram account which aims to bring recognition to females who have been erased from art history (@repaint.history). Importantly, this account amplifies the voices of people who have been silenced due to race or gender binary. The University of Edinburgh art collection is also seeking to diversify their collection, and steer away from its white, male orientated past. By commissioning or buying work by females, the university is also attempting to challenge it’s colonial roots through potential future collaborations with artist Alberta Whittle. In my History of Art classes in the university, I have been fortunate in having tutors who strive to provide material which centres on the narratives of minorities - focusing on P.O.C, those who are differently abled, and females. The Tate, a notoriously white male institution, appointed its first female director in 2017 and just this week Tate Britain also announced that it will be holding an exhibition to celebrate 60 years of British female artists to ‘increase the representation of females across their galleries’.
All of these initiatives that aim to dismantle the inherent exclusion artistic institutions practice greatly excite me. However, there is evidently still a long way to go to completely rid the institutions of discrimination, and create an entirely diverse, inclusive environment for all. Identifying as a female within the arts is not all glittering periods and grapefruit vaginas, it is about ensuring our narrative is inclusive, and supporting minority voices in order to ultimately reject the notion that art history is merely, to quote one of my tutors, ‘pale, male and stale’.