Researching the women of art history was both exciting and deeply disturbing for me. With Women’s History Month about to kick off in a few days and equality across the board in the national and global spotlight, I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what it was like for the women who went before me.
I studied art history in college. I have studied the Florentine Renaissance with none other than the director of the famed Uffizi Gallery’s daughter, a well-respected art historian in her own right. I have pored over books and books on the subject of art history on my own for nearly 20 years, as I love the subject. In another life, I would have loved to be an art historian.
All this is to say: I know my art history, but I had to dig back in my memory pretty hard — assisted by Google — to find a list of 12 women painters. (I stuck to two-dimensional artists, as that is my art form.
When I look to the past for guidance, as artists often do. I do not see myself staring back at me. I see a sea of predominantly European men. I often ask the question: “Name five famous female artists.” Very few can do that. That is sad to me. Where were all the women?
They were there, painting when they could. Historically, a woman’s life was primarily centered on caring for home and family. Hard to imagine, but even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, woman were forbidden from the cafés of Europe. To be allowed into a circle of artists or a movement such as Impressionism, a woman needed a man to vouch for her, both among other artists and among the buying public’s perceptions.
Only three women ever made their way into the Impressionist group. And the rules were different for them.
I also learned in my research that today, in 2017, statistically I make 22 percent less money than my male counterparts and that potential buyers are more likely to by art from men, and only 30 percent of all artists represented in galleries are women.*
I have no answers for you, my dear reader, only the facts to lay before you, and the invitation to come along with me throughout March as we celebrate some extraordinary woman who, against all odds, did make the history books.
Let us learn, know, and celebrate! Look for this celebration on my Facebook page starting March 1.