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Women in Art — Celebrating Women’s History Month

Women have come a long way, baby, in the art world, but industry professionals say there is still much progress to be made. Female artists, art educators, and art historians are making great strides to ensure the phrase “women in art” evokes much more than thoughts of the female form as an artistic subject.

“It starts with education to professionalize women as artists,” says Jordana Pomeroy, Chief Curator of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. “So many women have been engaged in the arts but were considered amateurs because they didn’t sell their artwork. Education allows the professionalization of women globally.”

In fall 2008, slightly more than half of the students in The Art Institutes system of schools were women. In the 19th century, art training for women was scarce at best, with female artists largely relegated to “female school” versions of the art academies attended by their male counterparts. Even then, women art students were usually not permitted to study and sketch nude figures.

While schools today might have a 50% or better female student population, educators recognize that in order to provide an equal opportunity to female students they must also present a curriculum that reflects the contributions of women artists, says Barbara Nesin, Art Foundations Department Chair at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

“If what we teach in our coursework is 90% male artists, that sets up a hierarchy. That tells students that women’s work maybe isn’t as valued,” she explains. “I think our responsibility as an institute of higher learning is to make sure our curriculum reflects an egalitarian view of the world.”

Art education can be beneficial not just for women as students, but also women as educators and business operators. Some women say there is still progress to be made when it comes to inequalities in the monetary value placed on work by male and female artists.

“I think men get paid more for their artwork than we do, and I think that might be because we devalue our artwork and undersell ourselves,” says Alease McClenningham, a Fashion Instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte. McClenningham adds that many female artists have learned to increase their income by taking advantage of other avenues in the art world – like teaching in schools and leading workshops. The National Endowment for the Arts issued a study in 2008 showing that women artists earn 75 centers for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The average for all women workers in general is 77 cents for each dollar earned by men.

The gap shows in the amount paid for art at auctions and galleries, says Pomeroy, the museum curator. Part of the problem and the solution, she says, lies with networking skills.

“Trying to get the right prices that are right for their work can be a matter of finding galleries that will pick them up,” says Pomeroy. “It’s a pretty mean world out there in terms of how long a gallery will give you to live or die. It’s how confident you are in getting your reputation established.”

Just getting into a gallery or museum can be challenging for women artists. The dearth of artwork by women shown in national museums was a cause brought to light by the Guerrilla Girls in 2007. With its purpose to “expose sexism, racism, and corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture,” the group created a full page in the Washington Post for a special section on feminism that featured statistics showing the lack of artwork from women and minorities shown in some national museums.

In one case, activists said artwork from women accounted for just 2% of a prominent national museum’s collection.

It’s not just a problem, critics say, at museums where collections cover time periods when women weren’t well represented in the ranks of professional artists. As the contemporary art world has shifted toward more female artists, some museums of contemporary art haven’t kept pace.

“That’s been the battle — to equalize the playing field and give recognition to very accomplished women artists who struggled with being allowed to show, with being allowed to show in major galleries, and with being allowed to be part of collections,” says Nesin of The Art Institute of Atlanta. “We’ve come a long way but today there still is some significant underrepresentation of women in all of those venues.”

That may be partially because women have yet to completely crack the glass ceiling when it comes to top jobs at galleries and museums.

“There is probably a gender imbalance as far as gallery owners,” Pomeroy says. “There are a lot of female curators. It seems like women are occupying many, many areas in museums except the very highest ranks – deputy director and director.”

Meanwhile, women can use new technologies to get their name — and their art — to the masses. McClenningham, who is an artist in addition to an instructor, says she uses social media tools to connect with other working women in the art world.

“Now that there is social media, the female artist is able to get out and have her work seen more,” she adds. “The blogging wave has really allowed us to write about our work more and express ourselves more.”

And because more women are attending art school and receiving formal training, progress will continue for women in art provided their instruction includes a balance of artists from both genders, Nesin says.

“Having students is like clay; you’re shaping the future,” she says. “You won’t feel the results right away but whatever you do today will have its impact later on.

“Will it be better in the future? That depends what we do.”

Ai InSite polled faculty members at The Art Institute schools, asking them for their favorite female artist. Below is the top ten list compiled from their responses.

1. Georgia O’Keefe
2. Louise Bourgeois
3. Frida Kahlo
4. Eva Hesse
5. Mary Cassatt
6. Cindy Sherman
7. Dorothea Lange
8. Jenny Holzer
9. Sofonisba Anguissola
10. Ana Mandieta

Read the entire article HERE

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AIPD 2010 - 2011 CALENDAR


9.3.10 September Holiday

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4.4.2011 - 6.18.2011

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