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HerStory: The Truth About Being a Woman Artist


All of my life — for as long as I can remember — I have known I wanted to be an artist. I’ve been drawing and painting pictures (whether it was on walls or on paper) since I was two. Growing up, I knew that I was choosing a profession most people would — and have — denounced as not a “real,” sufficient job that would provide a steady income. None of that was important to me, as I have never really cared much of what other people think. I considered it a real job and I knew that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else so that’s all that mattered.


Although I find what I do to be very rewarding, I have come to realize that the life of an artist has its ups and downs. These include hating most of the artwork that you have made, people expecting you to give away work or do work for free, creative blocks and that little voice inside your head that occasionally tells you that you are not good enough. It wasn’t until the fall semester of this year that I realized being an artist — a woman artist to be specific — has another downfall: It is a male-dominated occupation.


It never really seemed that way to me and most people don’t notice this fact of life either. The grade schools I went to consisted of mostly girls and girls always outnumbered the boys in art classes. JMU is the same in that regard. What is the female-to-male ratio? About 60:40? I know that holds true for my studio art courses as well. I think the largest number of guys I have ever had in a studio art course was five out of fifteen. So what would make me say that art is a male-dominated profession? Well, think about every famous artist you know — they are mostly male.


Sure, there is Frida Khalo and Georgia O’Keefe (to name some big names), Barbara Kruger and Helen Frankenthaler (a little lesser known) and …  can you think of anything else? Unless you are up to speed with art history and are in the know with contemporary artists, probably not. This is because men are more likely to “make it” within the art world and women have only struggled until the 1960s to participate in it. Twenty-seven years ago (which is fairly recent), an anonymous group of artists known as the Guerilla Girls surveyed that the most influential galleries and museums in the country exhibit little to no work produced by women. That’s right. Out of 169 artists in the Museum of Modern Art, only 13 were female. The MET was even worse with 97 percent being male work. Even more currently, Gagosian Galleries showed no women’s artwork in 11 of its 12 sites in 2012. The statistics are endless as is my frustration.


It would be one thing if the art selected to go into an exhibition was based on talent, but most of the time that isn’t the case even in today’s day and age. As an undergraduate studio art major eager to earn her Master of Fine Arts and become a successful freelance artist, it is quite hardening to know that I’m going to have work twice as hard as any man and face double the rejection when I’m out and about, trying to make a name for myself in the “real world.” However, I’m ready for it and I accept the challenge of changing the dynamics in the art sphere. Smashing patriarchy all day, every day.




B.F.A., Studio Art, PrintmakingTrack II Honors Student
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