Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Cassatt, Emily Carr…what do these women, among hundreds, nay thousands of others have in common? Artists, they fought vehemently and, in the end, victoriously to create a name for themselves in a world largely dominated by the concept of the impassioned and intellectual male artist. Women were considered incapable of the feelings that ran as strongly or as deep within as say a Picasso or a Monet. Women were not intelligent enough to be able to speak the “language of art” as effectively as their masculine counterparts.
And so women worked to prove the naysayers wrong.
The abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell was said to have finally started to make a name for herself by literally knocking on the doors of famous NYC painters whom she admired. No introduction, no mutual acquaintances; simply a covertly gotten address and a persistent demeanor gained her entry. And a few of these impromptu relationships were even said to have helped forward her career and get her art recognized. Later, once Mitchell herself had become a foremost figure in the New York artistic community, it is said that she, in turn, opened her own studio to young, aspiring artists prior to her death.
That is just one instance of a female artist opening her doors, her studio, and her home to aspiring artists, while having, early in her career, had to beat down her own share of doors, usually uninvited.
The question I pose is this: is art gender blind? For that matter, is it race blind, sexual orientation blind? My answer: no. It can’t be. Art is who you are. It is the total of your experiences. And your experiences are directly informed by your inherent persona. For the purposes of this article, the woman artist, the young girl as a woman artist is guided and ultimately shaped by the fact that she is a woman, one who has had to knock on strangers’ doors, or at times play upon her looks, or even pander to a masculine-dominated art world. Regardless, she somehow made herself into an artist; rather, the artist is what she was born as, and consequently she did what was necessary to become a fully realized version of this. She is therefore not just a portrait, but she is in fact the living, breathing, pulsing, and fully alive artist.