State of the Arts – female problems

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

female problems

A lot of artists of the female persuasion will tell you that there isn’t enough art being collected, on display or being promoted by female artists. I see these stats on a daily basis; that there is only .5% of art on display at the Louvre is by women or some such statistic. Or that women are not being given big, serious art exhibitions, the kind that people like Jeff Koons are getting. Female artists seem to feel they are ghettoised.

I’ve been in the arts for 25 years now and have seen a remarkable amount of women getting opportunities that were not afforded to me when I was young, so I see a change. Technology has also helped self starters of which the arts has many to promote and brand themselves to the big wide world regardless of their gender. In fact women seem to be a lot more adept at self promotion on the internet then men. But there are still huge gaps, like the fact that a recent retrospective of NYC based artist Cindy Sherman was among the first ever to be given to a women by MOMA. I would argue however that women pull most of the strings in the current art world and have done so for many decades. They’re just not artists.

We are tremendously artist centric today. We think that artists make their work and have impact solely on their own steam. It is a ridiculous idea that one can make their work alone and do so for decades. Artists are surrounded by a community that helps them. Patrons, curators, dealers, administrators, volunteers, family, friends, and admirers all help the artist create a world in which they can produce what they need and get the public to experience it. Many of the most important people in these art communities are women. I’ve met hundreds of women over the years who either run a gallery, volunteer with one, teach art, administrate one, chair a funding body – the list goes on and on. The whole world I operate in is run mostly by women. For example there are more women who run our publicly funded art galleries in Ontario than men.

Rhubarb! Buddies in Bad Times festival that included my work. A great training ground for understanding gender identity.
Rhubarb! Buddies in Bad Times festival that included my work. A great training ground for understanding gender identity.

So when I hear these arguments about how female artists are unfairly treated in the art world I think, really? Or is it just that the focus is on what is seen in the galleries and not the behind the scenes tasks that make what you are looking at possible. If you wanted to get really picky about such things I would rather people complained that galleries are filling up with wealthy artists, ones that don’t need to get paid and can finance work that is outrageously expensive to make. But then again that’s my issue, of which I have many….

I believe that my white, middle class privilege far out weighs any disadvantage I might have had as a woman. That I was raised in a leafy suburb, with a cottage in the summer, holiday trips with my family during the year says more about me than my private parts do. My advantages have always kept my thoughts about myself in check. I am a lucky white chic who gets to make paintings. It isn’t easy and far from successful but I get to do it because of where I was born and to whom. Being female has very little if anything to do with whatever I’ve been able to achieve.

Years ago in theatre I was part of a feminist sketch trio that parodied guys, took pokes at romance novels and basically had fun with gender issues. It was the 80/90s and queer culture was just becoming a force, so ideas about sexual identity ruled. They were great days and I learned a lot about how lucky I was that I didn’t have to run away from home, become a sex worker and generally feel totally confused about my gender. It made me a more enlightened person being around people who were all these things. The world is a harsh place and if you aren’t accepted from day one your road is a very hard one.

Most of the people who have made my professional life a success such as it is have been women because it has been female arts officers who have helped me through the labyrinth of arts funding, female curators who have given me exhibitions, women who helped promote my work and women who have written about my work. Men figure prominently too (shouts out to my hubby, my brother Andy & Sky Gilbert once again, I will always thank Sky)but more often than not, it has been a woman I ended up working with. Yes, more women need to have solo exhibitions in major galleries but that is being corrected; we need more women recognized for all the work they do for artists. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the world needs more art supporters not artists and women are definitely leading the charge.

State of the Arts is heading to the east coast for workshops and a wee rest and will return August 14.

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