Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe, was a very good book recommendation for me, and I appreciate being included in the conversation about it — thank you, Esther. I am interested in sharing thoughts about women working in the arts: how our issues are the same as other women who work, and how our personal histories are unique to the creative process.
Reading Georgia was stunning to me, because I saw so much common ground in the story of OK’s life, (as one of her friends referred to her), which was a little creepy: like the author lifted material from the blog on my website about the things that source my subject matter and the “realness” I’m looking for in the forum of realism. On the other hand, there is probably much that all women who paint will have in common — maybe that is true for all women who work with the creative process!
I have some questions that were inspired by the book, Georgia, and the book club venue. I’m extending an invitation to everyone in your book club to respond to my questions and submit their own comments and questions on my blog @ www.sbartron-miscione.com.
To the four women artists, I’m extending the invitation to become a guest artist on my blog. If you’re interested in doing that, send the answers, questions and comments to my email address, along with a high res file of one of your works using: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will have your material posted within a day or two of receiving your material.
Reading about Georgia O’Keeffe and writing about her issues inspired me to open my blog to a few invited women-in-the-arts, for the purpose of: building a forum for ideas, showcasing work, discussing our shared art issues, and our individual creative processes. I hope you will join me — this could get interesting!
For starters: you have to be ruthless to carve out the time to be an artist. That is true for men and women, but way more so for women, because the bulk of daily grind, unpaid work, and care giving has always been, and remains, the responsibility of women. Unless there is a culture that I don’t know about, it is a universal truth. It means that it’s probably not a good idea for a women artist to try to combine her life as an artist with a family life. Any woman who becomes a wife and mother, contributes to the family income and participates in all of the social convention that those roles entail, will not have the time, or a place in her life devoted to making art — it’s not a reasonable expectation. Outliers to the obvious, who can carve out enough time to make art, (they don’t sleep?), will still have to give up the goal of being involved in the business of art, or she must be independently wealthy, retired w/financial security, or the mistress/wife of Alfred Stieglitz — or a reasonably accurate version of him. The options being what they are for women who paint, he was pretty unique in his devotion to OK and her success. I don’t know any other woman artist who had, or has anyone like A.S. promoting her work.
The other “elephant in the room” of a woman’s life in art, is unending sexism that makes it close to impossible to get shows, favorable reviews and sell work. That is the business of art that cumulatively builds recognition, increases price per painting, and demand. In fact, during the Renaissance, and for a time following, several women did gain considerable recognition and fame, unrivalled since — even though those women and their work are now so “forgotten” that you have to do some serious research to know anything about them! The percentage of women exhibiting their work was actually higher after the French Revolution in Paris, the art capital then, than it is in the NYC capital now. Here’s a current example of the percentage of women being represented in galleries and museums in NYC: at the reopening of MoMA in 2004, out of 400 objects exhibited in the museum, 16 or 4% came from women artists. Compared to Paris in 1820, the percentage of women currently showing in New York is down, drastically down.
Note: those statistics are from the recent article: The Shoes Under the Art World.
So, if Georgia O’Keeffe’s story is read, framed by the facts of what it means to be a woman artist in real time, she comes as close as anybody I’ve ever know to having lived a charmed life in art! She was, by most accounts including mine, an exceptional artist, but there was so much more to recommend her! Georgia was a unique beauty with a unique artistic style; she was willing to break with conventional mores to allow other artists to make nude images of her – in life drawing as a model, and in the famous nude photographs by A.S. She was also independent and self contained enough to resist domestic convention by living openly with a married A.S., showing disregard for anyone who got in her way, and she was lucky! The sun, moon and stars were perfectly aligned for her to find her way from the prairie to Alfred Stieglitz, who recognized all of that and fell in love with her.
A.S. was correct: that his self-serving strategy for presenting his beautiful nude photographs of her would shock people and get them thinking about her before the paintings went public — a no-brainer if ever there was one! There was a fascination with her personally – a buzz that set her apart.
I also think she was the same kind of career catalyst for him — they were that for each other.
Artists have been exhausting that modus operandi with “shock art” ever since — and look at the careers that have flourished because of it. The ‘nudes’ were painful for her, and contributed hugely to her becoming “male identified,” but was it worse for her to be male identified as an artist than it is for any other woman? I think not, since the art world was, and continues to be a boy’s club, it seems highly unlikely that she would have had anything more than local participation in an art scene without A.S. On the other hand, being male identified as an artist and a woman would be so all encompassing, so complete, that there would be nothing left to call your own…
I want to end this with this quote:
“The task of art, Stieglitz says to the art critic, Paul Rosenfeld, is not to render things as they visibly are, but to call forth an unseen spirit, to draw what’s abstract and timeless out of what is tactile, concrete, personal.”
A.S. got that, so did Georgia, and so does any artist whose work is worth looking at. The genderless, personal relationship of the artist with their work – at this level – will be the most enduring relationship of their lives. I think it’s the reason that, against all odds, women will make art without recognition or remuneration.