For some years prior to our retirement several years ago, the Doc and I collected paintings of women by women. Once we retired, not having day jobs that ate up our best waking hours, we found that we had significantly more time to invest in our collecting pursuits. The result has been a deeply gratifying opportunity to acquire some fabulous art and, more importantly, to get to know the creators of these works and to share their trials and struggles, uncertainties and triumphs.
Along the way, both the Doc and I have acquired some insights and uncovered some dilemmas that we both now spend more time thinking about. Indeed, some of these issues not only challenge us intellectually, they involve us emotionally, both happily and unhappily.
One big question we think about often is: why do women get the short end of the visual arts stick? From the very beginning, we’ve been unable to grasp why women artists, “the girls” (my wife and all my feminist friends hate it when I refer to women artists this way but, somehow, no one ever seems too upset when we refer to a group of men in the aggregate as “the boys”) have never received the same degree of anything good (fill in the blank: fame, recognition, money, exposure, approbation) as the boys. Art historian Linda Nochlin said it’s a function of history, conditioning and education. Maybe so, but I can’t help but think that it’s also favoritism, exclusionary thinking, self-preservationist behavior on the part of (mostly white) men, i.e. discrimination pure and simple, whether conscious or unconscious.
Yet, today we see things happening that give cause for hope. A Gentileschi that nobody probably gave two hoots about 50 years ago sold for almost $2 Million in the 4th quarter of 2019 while, at the same auction, a near perfect Van Dyck portrait sold for $1.4 Million. Likewise, women are setting new records in the fields of art, science and politics. In late 2019, the top 5 spots in the National STEM Competition all went to young women, a first in the history of the event. And, there have been other victories pretty much everywhere within our field of vision: self-made women billionaires (Oprah Winfrey, Sara Blakely), women secretaries of state (Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice), and women heads of state (Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Tsai Ing-wen). And the list goes on.
We do not believe these victories are one-offs, i.e. exceptions, flukes, coincidences, luck. Rather, they signal the beginning (finally!) of a trend which ultimately leads to true equality among the sexes. Will the relief be immediate? If not, dammit, it should be. In any case, is it forthcoming? Indeed, we think it is. We truly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel for women who’ve been hampered by their gender. Hopefully, this success will find its way to the many women artists who today labor in obscurity and hampered by disadvantage. And, we likewise hope it will find its way into the lives and careers of those women who are also people of color. We deeply want the aspirations of all women to collide, head on with the promises of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, the French Declaration of the Rights of “Man” and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And to do so NOW! Women, artists or not, have waited long enough! People of color, artists or not, have waited long enough! Let’s get on with it!