Great Women Artists ?

My favorite living female writer, Laurie R. King, is launching her upcoming book in the Mary Russell series, The God of the Hive. She has a twenty week build up planned and at the onset has posed a question on her blog and facebook site… Why are there no great women artists ?

Now, as many of you can imagine, I take great umbrage at this but she is referring in part to one of her first published books, A Grave Talent, in which she builds a character based on the query, “What would Rembrandt look like if he were a woman”.

Since you have recently seen that The Rembrandt Book takes pride of place on my studio kitchen table, I thought it might be interesting to bring her question over here for my readers to ponder. I know all you women of paint will have an opinion…and those of pen and pencils alike.

Here for your purusal …click on the painting here for a link to read her blog entry… and my comments are below.

Now this is a subject that I can sit in front of the fireplace (or perhaps easel ) and really warm up to…and… since the biggest book among those which the muses have currently stacked on my studio kitchen table is Gary Schwartz’, The Rembrandt Book ( see blog entry for details… )… here are some new layers to ponder in respect to your premises. I would suggest that, at the core, it is the drive to create rather than the need to express a particular vision of the world that possesses the artist. Like an athletes’ adrenaline high, the act of creating is an intensely solitary pursuit which might contribute to the egomaniacal aspects. And the pursuit is one of beauty, and when and if that achieves common ground with the viewer…the elusive experience of the sublime. As an artist that is not my goal but a rare and precious byproduct of the journey.

Even as a female artist I might take a bit of offense at the tone of the “pathological” degree of self-importance…but my oh so patient and supportive partner Pat will vouch for the “sucking every scrap of energy in their vicinity” part of your description. Does this not also apply to the art of the writer ? What we focus on expands and if the goal is to constantly raise the bar, paint better, write better, I know for my own self that it is taking more effort and concentration, never less, to dig deeper with each brushstroke. And though the muses make regular appearances, the energy to meet those expectations has to come from within and as I grow older, as in all things, this requires a good deal more umph than it used to. My constant refrain and whining to Pat is how I just want to shut out the rest of the world so I can paint.

Innate talent does separate the cream from the milk but in Rembrandt’s day women were not allowed into the guilds so the formal aspects of training could not even give her the tools to begin to paint let alone rise to the level of “great artist”. A subjective category such as that takes generations to build and, since this last century did offer women the opportunity to be taught the trade, you are beginning to see, as Jacki pointed out with the NMWA, the history books recognizing … us. Even today I meet that boys club wall on a regular basis. Can’t imagine what Frieda and Georgia had to deal with.

And you’re right. To be a “great artist” or writer or musician or cpa is a full time job. The “practical applications of The Feminine” (if by that you mean housework, childrearing and laundry, etc. ) do cramp the creative drive. But I have come to see that this is no longer a gender crisis…just ask the three men in our art group on the vineyard who are parents and desperate to carve out blocks of time in their studios and oh so jealous of my gate keeper Pat.

So now you’ve gotten me going and I will carry this dialogue over to my blog and see what the readers there have to offer, and promote your new book in the wake of the conversation. And, you have made one more sale as I have gone to Audible and downloaded A Grave Talent to listen to again but now with the backstory. And, since this finds me FINALLY listening to the last Russell adventure…while I paint the snowy landscape outside of my studio window…I am going to get right on that Russellscape painting when it’s finished.

Oh the muses… yours in greatness… and humility.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts here and do take a minute to explore her website… the true spirit of Sherlock Holmes lives therein…as well as many others among my most beloved storybook characters.

One thought on “Great Women Artists ?

  1. This really got a lot of you going but the comments were left on my email rather than here…
    This, from Master Follansbee, is a sample and corrects the historical references…

    Re: dame painters.
    I have a nice book Judith Leyster: Dutch Master and Her World. Yale University Press, 1993

    Her dates are 1609-1659. Painted during the 1620s & 30s. Married the painter Jan Miense Molenaer c. 1635.

    Prior to her marriage she was admitted to the Guild of St Luke in Haarlem. This meant she could take paying students, also could benefit if she became disabled, etc.
    There were other women painters, but rare to be part of the Guild.
    Became moot when she married, because she started having children…
    Some speculation that she painted with husband.
    I have the book because of the chairs in it, especially this polk-dot one.
    I can’t stand Freida Kahlo or however she spells it…
    Peter Follansbee