Categories, categories, categories, I was warned about them by an artist once……..”your work is very feminine (?) you will be categorised… oh yes you will!”.
The work I was producing at the time was sculptural as now, but no more or less feminine I don’t think. Perhaps it was because I had used fine white thread to make labour intensive (on my part) pom poms which I hung by equally fine thread from the ceiling at various lengths. I suppose soft, fluffy and snow-white would enter into the description.
But the work was no less interconnected with the stuff I am doing now, using crude oil, rubber, and jet; dark hard and even repugnant materials does that fit feminine too? No, silly me! that is just based on stereo type images, pink for girls blue for boys stuff.
I suppose my art is bound to reflect the fact that my gender has an impact on how I function in the world and therefore can’t help but be shown through what I do – though I am no more aware of using feminine gestures, materials, or ways of expressing, than Joe Bloggs or indeed Jo Bloggs on the wide spectrum of x, y and z chromosomes.
My works are, and always have been about products, labour, consumption and the social-human condition. So as far as being specifically feminine well – I am female and that just about covers it.
This is not an easy thing to flat-line because as a category women and artists can fit into that female catch-all group and do have similar basic dilemmas; simplistically put, child bearing and dogma. But from there they can have widely different bench marks.
Recapping on one of the discussions at the extremely energising #class – which by all accounts they are having another bash this summer – (hold on to your seats and watch this space! plus their website for details).
The event description;
Caitlin Rueter and Suzanne Stroebe will host a Feminist Tea Party, an event that lies somewhere in between a contemporary consciousness raising group, a panel discussion, a performance, and a joke. They will create an installation of sorts, with a table set for tea, complete with tablecloth, porcelain cups, finger sandwiches and cookies. While attempting to maintain a visual and stylistic protocol consistent with an afternoon tea party, they will engage visitors in a dialogue around contemporary women’s issues that contrasts sharply with the formal, prissy setting.
During the discussion, someone suggested that the term feminism had actually come to represent an angry word and for many people this category had become representative of an angry movement. A lot of the idea, stemming from people who felt threatened by it in the ‘70’s, and describing them as family destroyers.
I was only a whippersnapper at the time so I never really picked up on the feminist thing, only what was reported in the press and shown through TV sit-coms, fashion etc.,. The general consensus if you like. Even the feminists themselves found that their camps were split into what kind of life should be led by women; stay at home or have it all (like now) as though the word and world of feminism needed to have a firm identity stamp of approval on it rather than a choice. Toe-ing the party line.
During the discussion the idea was bandied about that female art is still very much unrecognised or underrepresented, (now where have I heard that one recently? oh yes! women parliamentary candidates and MP’s). Concluding also in the discussion that art media is still perpetuating a certain idea of women and that these roles are still relevant – and no less so in the general media either. With front covers showing the most coveted prizes of image, style and whats accepted and hot.
Galleries too, joining with that idea that women and art have a certain place. Although as a specific example in ’93-’95 when Times Magazine had front coverage of all male art, it is not true now. Things do change, attitudes change, but as with a lot of institutions the dogma is slow to move and a comfy sense of business-as-usual tries to prevail staving off any boat rocking.
Artists do not tend to work in tandem either, they are individuals and like writers sometimes there may be drifts of genres or movements but ultimately the writer is alone with the page as is the artist with their materials. I’m guessing here, but change by artists is absorbed on different levels and at different rates. Rather more individual beginnings than group shifts. Although the groups and the categories come later.
I mentioned Laura Shapiro’s book Something From The Oven in my last post; if you haven’t read it she describes very wittily how woman’s roles in the 50’s were morphed post war into a new era of perceived domesticity and bliss.
The *advert* had a lot to do with selling the idea and the products that drove it. A prosperous new era for all, and certainly for production and the economy. If you take the art of the era and juxtapose the general vibe of the times, the artistic shift, gender specific or not sort of shows its own pattern.
1950’s advert: a post war progression, graphic and embracing tv/cinematic style mini-ad
1950’s artists; a progression from earlier artists, but in general a desire not to be literal with the image
Barnett Newman: Zip
I had to search hard to find women artists (there were, of course) but with the popular artists, the ratio here is not quite right, probably more on the lines of 7:1 if that.
Categorising has always been a useful way of joining-up social ideas and wider constructs to form ways of understanding and also popular ways of doing. Not social engineering as such but how policies can shape peoples thinking about certain areas of their lives. Such as the domestic bliss of the 50’s linking to consumerism, different ways of approaching wants and needs; literally buying into the lifestyle, including the domesticity needed to go with it. And art reflecting that.
Fay Weldon of She Devil fame, came out with a remark in The Observer recently, also relating to women and their *position* in society;
“Marriage, according to Weldon, is often a commercial exchange in which a woman swaps “services of a domestic and sexual nature” in return for her keep. “I married for love because I could afford to. As soon as you can keep yourself, you can afford to love.”
Fay has made mucho money and got herself in the position to enable her to do this. And as a female and a writer she is no less vulnerable to the whims of changing society than any other artist.
I think many artists – have a slightly different agenda though when it comes to being self supporting ie; the oh-so-important day job!.
But as far as women being solely reliant on someone to earn for them while they have children, for example, or through choice or lack of choice – illness or similar. I don’t think this is particularly gender specific apart from the physicality of bearing children. I guess people have wrestled with this one for years – to be reliant on someone is or can be a damaging position for some – for others it is their redemption and works. But values and traditions have usually tried to *encourage* women to rely on someone even if they are seemingly having it all by working, juggling, and running round like headless chickens in doing so.
And according to Catherine Bennett in the Guardian this week, after the election results came in. The pecking order of attention that our policy makers hold dear appears to be somewhat like this;
“With their working wives, but no female colleagues, neither Cameron nor Clegg did better. Judging by the last few weeks, the political consensus on female respectability places elegant wives and mothers in the first rank, followed by nurses (also known as “angels”), horny-handed “mums”, caring grandmothers, cancer victims (treated to a special Labour scare story), single women with children, followed by childless single women who cannot be bribed with tax credits, women politicians and, lastly, the widow, mum of two and former prime minister, Baroness Thatcher. Thanks to Labour’s vision of a women-free public life, reinforced by both rival parties, it should be generations before her freakish achievement is ever approached, let alone repeated.”
Stereo-type categories may benefit our understanding of society but choice is the main component. It frees us from those categories that can so easily be manoeuvred by policies and public opinion into places where many feel they have no choice but to be in them.
I do like the idea though that Fay was getting across – that a woman, artist or no, should not swap an idea of love for an exchange of monetized reciprocation.
I also think that in general women and women artists have had dogma stacked against them for a long time including bad press for the feminist movement in the sixties and seventies, a lot was also tied in with liberal and left of centre thinking which also fanned the flames of the counter-press. Along with wider *femininity* issues being given equal dogmatic resistance from women as well men.
Sometimes I wondered if a lot of it wasn’t just old fashioned jealousy, never mind the element of control.
But all in all I liked the sentiment that Sam Taylor-Wood (who also must have given up the day job by now)…. came out with on all the shock-horror press she received on hitching up with Aaron Johnson.
In a recent interview, she criticised the attention paid to the age gap in her relationship with Johnson, saying that men with much younger female partners did not receive the same treatment.
“How come no one says anything about that? It’s totally sexist,” she said. “I try to ignore it. In my life I’ve never really listened when people start forming opinions on how you should be doing things.”
Categories, categories …. choice and change eh!.
And on the lines of change and categories and artist Jen Dalton also had an interesting view, talking about ethics in art.21blog, suggesting art has its own category agenda:
“Jennifer Dalton, who co-curated the recent #class exhibition with Powhida, pointed out, “The art world is not such a tolerant place.” She continued, “We don’t like conservatives, even socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative ones . . . . Our commitment to free expression is limited to the types of ‘transgressions’ we are all entirely comfortable with.”
NB; Escape From New York…..
I know I posted the link about a month ago but Art Fag City has also updated the event and shows the specifics of what looks like being really good event (wish I could get on a plane and wizz myself over there!).
Back with more on Sunday…..