Lengths to go

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Untitled Painting in Progress

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times entitled “Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem on the Unending Fight for Women’s Rights.”

The premise was that the two friends sat down and reminisce about the past in Ginsburg’s office. The women — both now in their 80s, talk about not being able to rent apartments without a male signer, how women used to go to college to find husbands, how  women had to justify taking a spot from a man when applying to law school. Steinem talks about how Gay Talase told her once, “Every year, a pretty girl comes to New York and pretends to be a writer. This year, it’s Gloria.”

I was thinking about how recent of a past this window of an article opened up. These are realities that my grandmothers, aunts and mother faced — and I believe are still prevalent today in a number of ways.

I believe that the art world is still a boy’s club.

When I started painting, I wanted to create portraits of strong women. I wanted to paint women who looked like they were thinking and feeling — not just posing as objects, not just a body to be sexualized. I wanted my women to look courageous — like the women in my real life, the ones who inspired me every day, my grandmother, my teachers, my family, my friends.

I noticed that when I had my first shows, women reacted to the paintings and thought they were beautiful. Most men did not.

Often men would say to me, “How can you paint such sad pictures when you are such a happy, pretty girl?”

It infuriated me. These guys didn’t know me. They didn’t know  my emotions, my thoughts, my story. But even more importantly, I felt that if I had painted portraits of pensive men, they would not have thought twice about it. In our culture, the image of a woman thinking is so rare that we equate it with sorrow.

There have been several times that men in the art world have openly criticized my work at a show — and I would be willing to bet that they would not have been so forthright if I were a male painter. Once, my ex-boyfriend’s patron said to me that I was much like the drawings of flowers I was creating at the time — very pretty, but without substance. And fleeting.

More shocking to me, however, was the time an older woman printmaker came to one of my shows and said, “There are women who are talented — and then there are those artists who are just pretty girls who get a lot of attention,” while she gestured around at my crowded exhibit.

It took a long time for me to build a core of supportive women artists in Houston. Luckily, I eventually had regular lunches with Angela Dillon and Maria Queta Hughes, who encouraged me and showed me another way we could treat each other — not with jealousy but with respect.

In the New York Times article, the author Philip Galanes writers, “Rejection is the best thing that can happen. It pushes us forward.”

I think that the conversation between these two women is a great reminder of strides we have made, the importance of banding together, the need to continue this dialogue and the lengths we still have to go.

Here’s a link to the story — http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/fashion/ruth-bader-ginsburg-and-gloria-steinem-on-the-unending-fight-for-womens-rights.html?_r=0

And a second article about behind-the-scenes —

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2 thoughts on “Lengths to go

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