Saturday, October 28, 2017

37 The Bro-gallery

37  The Bro-gallery (Tomboy Artist part 3)

What do you call a gallery that exhibits fewer than, say, 20-30% female artists?  Yes, a Bro-gallery!

Today the artists a gallery represents are typically 70-80% male, sometimes more.  What if we flipped it and now that percentage of a gallery's artists are female.  With that one flipped fact-the whole ballgame looks different.  What if 80% of our House of Representatives and Senate were female?  Who could possibly miss all those media shots of clumps of dumpy jowly men in gray suits with their big fun (ha ha) yellow or red striped ties!  Speaking for myself-what a relief to never see one of those photos again.  And on and on it goes.

Why do we assume that the male domination of the art world is simply the way it should be?  Are men more clever, talented, intelligent than women?  That certainly hasn't been my experience.  In the art world, to be male is akin to walking into an SAT test with an automatic 500 points in your pocket before the test is even taken.

To all you Bro-gallerists out there-why not take a cold hard look at your assumptions about male and female artists?  Don't be afraid to change.  You may find that an awakening would be quite refreshing.  For everyone.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

36  Tomboy Artist part 2

A really ugly male behavior is getting a lot of attention right now.  In politics and in the entertainment business the assault on female bodies and dignity has been business as usual for decades.

How about the art business?  It's well known that the male abstract expressionists of the 1940's and 1950's considered women artists as not only inferior, but essentially worthless (except for fucking.)  As for the "revolutionary" 1960's-how many famous pop artists were female?  Hmmmm, I'm thinking...

Today, fifty plus years after pop and AE, the art world's treatment and belief that women artists should be taken as seriously as men is uneven at best.  I've had my share of dismissive treatment by dealers and curators.  All women artists have.  Honestly, I don't know what to do about it.  I don't know how to change this neanderthal mindset.  It's not in the best interests of male artists to stand up for us.  More sales and representation of women means less for them.  If a gallery represents 20 artists and 20% (a typical percentage today) are female, to even out the opportunities for women-six of the male artists in the gallery are going to have to take their work down and leave the gallery.  Do you know any male artists willing to do that?  I don't.

Here's an additional hurdle to chew on.  Until recently (the 1980's) Janson's History of Art had ZERO women artists represented in its 850 pages.  ZERO.  Today it has 9% female representation.  In 2017 91% of the artists in the most commonly used art history textbook are male.  Welcome to Art History 101!

How does it affect young women studying art today and how did it affect women of my generation in the past to study an art form where the vast majority of artists honored, are male.  How does a female form attachments to the male artists of the past who we know treated women abominably?  Young people need to study and learn from those who came before.  What is the effect of having no role models with whom one can share a particular knowledge of life?  Imagine a whole area of study and human practice, fine art, where one must have a penis in order to be taken seriously? Would a dildo suffice?  It's ludicrous, but true.

A lot of artists, Picasso and Pollock notably, were well known to have treated women badly.  Yet they are two of the most undeniably important painters of the 20th century.  What is a woman artist supposed to do?  Pretend these two men and thus their work, never existed?  Turn our heads away and not learn from them?

I had a painting teacher in art school who told me that I could not be an artist until I had first gotten married and become a mother.  I have no clue what he was talking about.  I had another painting teacher grab me in the crotch.  Some years back I was in a four person show in my hometown museum-the three guys were in the main room and I was in the rear hallway.  And so it goes and goes.

Until it doesn't.

35  "...aren't we doing it for the painting and not ourselves?"

..."aren't we doing it for the painting and not ourselves?"  This is a fragment of one of Sam Tchakalian's stream-of-consciousness painting critiques.  He was trying to get 20-year-olds to understand that a painting stands alone, and it stands or falls on its merits.  To paint well is to put the painting first.  The artist's ego, needs, wants, and learned ideas of what art should be, are a distant second.

What does a painting want?

To make art that has substance, an interior life of its own, requires an artist's skill for sure.  It also demands an artist's vulnerability-a willingness to fail. "Don't laugh-this is the best I can do right now.  I'm dirty and sweaty from the art battlefield.  It doesn't often work out.  But I'll be at it again tomorrow.  And the day after that.  And the year after.  And the decade after that."

I think it was Picasso who said (and I paraphrase)-"when I fall in love with something in a painting, I destroy it."


Because when a painter falls in love with a particular color, a gesture, a line, a shape-they can no longer see the painting as a whole.  Picasso was ruthless-and brilliant-and probably the greatest painter of the 20th century.  Good painters are ruthless.  Mediocre painters are tolerant.

Jackson Pollock couldn't draw.  His artist brothers thought he was hopeless.  Jack the Dripper found a way around this flaw.  Instead of a pencil he drew with paint.  (I have read that he took his drip technique from an obscure woman painter).  And boy, did he draw with paint.  He tackled scale, color, texture, line, composition like his very life was on the line (and considering his end, I suppose it was.)

I've seen a lot of Pollock imitators over the years.  It's sort of comical that they seem to not understand that the reasons Pollock paintings are great is not because of the drip; they are great because they are infused with Pollock's touch, sensibility, timing, heart---they are infused with Pollock himself (the good, bad and the ugly as the movie said.)  He wrestled with the elements of visual art for the sake of the painting.  He may have taken his drip technique from a lesser artist-but he put it in his backpack and took it up the mountain.

This is what happens when we do it for the painting and not ourselves.