“She paints like a guy” – Part 1

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A woman approached me recently after admiring one of my paintings, and said, “You paint like a woman”. After a long pause, while I recovered from the shock, I asked…”Which one?”

Well, you never know, it could happen! We all realize that there are some great women artists out there; personally, I’d like to be able to paint like some of them.
The idea for this blog came as a result of an interview I recently had with Debra Joy Groesser, newly elected president of the American Impressionist Society. You may read that interview HERE.
I had asked her if she noticed any significant differences in the way male and female artists are accepted within the American art scene. From her response, I realized there might be other women artists out there who would like to weigh in on the matter.

I realize the subject is controversial and differing opinions have the potential of creating animosity between groups…and boy, do we have enough of that already! Hopefully this little blog will not do that. I think it’s valuable to voice opinions in order for all parties to understand one another…and make adjustments where appropriate.
In this 2-part series, you’ll be hearing from eight important women artists. Four women turned down my request…well, sort of. One had nothing to offer on the subject, another was prevented by circumstances, and the other two did not want to go public. Their comments are well worth sharing however…which I will do…you just won’t know whom they came from.
Here are this week’s four contributors:

Debra Joy Groesser is a Signature Member and President of the American Impressionist Society, and Signature Member of Plein Air Artists Colorado and American Plains Artists. She is best known for her impressionistic landscape paintings, particularly her plein air work. She is represented by SouthWind Art Gallery, Topeka, KS; Mountainsong Galleries, Carmel, CA; Abend Gallery, Denver, CO; and Art in Miniature, Tubac, AZ.   debrajoygroesser

Elizabeth Robbins began painting in her early 20’s but soon children became her priority and her love of painting was an occasional hobby. As the children grew, so did her desire to expand on her art. She now devotes full time to art and is the winner of numerous awards including “Best Still Life” at the National Oil and Acrylic Painter’s Exhibit, and the “Tuffy Berg Award” at the 2008 CM Russel auction.  elizabethrobbins

Lori Putnam is the winner of numerous awards, and has been featured in several important American art magazines. Recognized as one of America’s finest impressionists, she credits Quang Ho, Scott Christensen, and Dawn Whitelaw for their influence and encouragement. She was asked to share her art philosophy and painting methods at this year’s Plein Air Convention, attended by more than 700 artists.  loriputnam

Dawn Whitelaw is on the faculty of the Portrait Society of America and Peninsula School of Art, and for over 25 years has taught basic principles of oil painting as an adjunct instructor at David Lipscomb University. She’s been a featured instructor for the National Plein Air Conventions in Nevada and California. In 2001 she was awarded “Best of Show” at the National Conference of the Portrait Society of America…and last year she was appointed Vice-Chairman of the organization.   dawnwhitelaw

…and here’s the question:

Are there any significant differences in the way male and female artists are accepted within the American art scene? If so, what would you like to see changed?

Debra Joy Groesser   As much as I wish there weren’t differences, I definitely believe there are. It doesn’t seem to be much different than many other occupations. If you look throughout art history, you rarely find women artists mentioned. In most of the major invitational exhibitions, the vast majority of the artists are men. I think that’s a big reason you see several organizations now that are devoted to women and their art. I’ve heard several comments recently about there being a “masculine” or “feminine” feeling to paintings, and that the women who are getting the most recognition have a “masculine” feeling to their work. I find that an interesting observation. A couple of years ago, I was at a show admiring the work of one of my female painter friends when a couple of male artists came up and said that they loved her work because “she paints like a guy!”

Debra Joy Groesser – “Just Chillin’ in the Shade” – 14″x 18″ – Oil

As far as what I would like to see changed, I’d like to see more recognition for female artists, and more inclusion in art exhibitions and events. It’s important to remember though, that ANY artist, male or female, must work hard and do very high quality work in order to earn recognition. Regardless of gender, good marketing, persistence, perseverance, confidence, being unafraid to seize opportunities when they arise, and “thinking outside the box” are also all necessary. Women need not be apologetic or afraid to be bold about getting their work out there. I’m happy to see some small groups of female artists banding together, creating special exhibitions, and finding good galleries to host them…taking control and creating their own opportunities. I think educating people about some of the little known female artists from the past is very important, for there have been some truly outstanding ones.

Elizabeth Robbins   This is a very difficult question. As a female, I only write about what I have experienced. I would be interested to read the male perspective on this issue. I can honestly say that for the most part I feel that being a female has helped me in the art world. Perhaps it’s the subject matter that I paint, but I have such an emotional connection with my flowers that I think the collector feels that. I feel as women, we are more spiritual by nature and that we are more “emotional” and “sensitive”. This is not to say that men can’t be emotional or sensitive. There are many who are, but most people in the non-creative world would consider being so sensitive as a handicap…whereas, I consider it a blessing.

Elizabeth Robbins – “Birthday Roses” – 20″x 24″ – Oil

On the flip side, I have had the unfortunate experience of having dealt with some gallery owners who were men that really didn’t care about promoting women artists. If you look at the ratio of women artists vs men artists in the big shows such as The Autrey, Prix de West, etc. you will find that the majority of artists are men. Whether this is due to the fact that there are more professional men artists than women, I don’t know. I do know, however, that there are many professional female artist that don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve. Perhaps I was a bit naive when I first started selling in galleries because I felt that the artwork should speak for itself, but I have found out that at times it’s not so much about the artwork as it is about who you know that gets you ahead. This of course can work for either male or female. I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people who have helped me along the way.
I’ve heard from many women that galleries don’t take them seriously because of family obligations. Some galleries feel that if you are a wife and mother that you won’t give 100% of your time to your art, whereas men don’t have that stereotype to deal with. I have not had that experience, perhaps because I am a widow and the only income I have is from my art. I feel women are better at multitasking than men and are able to handle the demands of family and career.
I have never had anyone tell me that they wouldn’t buy a piece of art from a woman but I have been told that there are some that won’t buy art from someone because of their religion. This is mind boggling to me.
What I would like to see changed…let the artwork speak for itself. Male/female, christian/non-christian…it shouldn’t matter. Let the artwork speak.
If you think of all the great civilizations, what have they left us? ART! We remember them for their music, their literature, their sculpture, their art. One-hundred years from now, I do believe that women will play a very big roll in how the future remembers us.

Lori Putnam   During a recent conversation with an artist friend in England, we discussed similarities and differences between the way artists of different sexes are viewed in our respective countries. Prior the that conversation, my perspective on the subject was quite narrow-minded. It seems true that in the U.S., female painters are largely stereotyped as being far less serious about their work and careers than their male counterparts. We are often identified in our local papers by our floppy hats and sensible shoes, leisurely painting the day away, while our husbands are out working to support our painting hobby. Furthermore, fewer females sell paintings in the higher price range that many men enjoy; more men are labeled as “masters” in large organizations, and until recently, the percentage of award-winning painters appeared to be predominately male. This seem odd, given that there are many more female artists in this business than there are men. Therefore, statistics would suggest that the odds should be in our favor. This all leads me to believe that surely we Americans are much further “behind the times”, than our European friends. As it turns out, I was mistaken. 

Lori Putnam – “Wild Beauty” – 24″x 30″ – Oil

Putnam goes on to explain the difference between the American Salmagundi Club and the English Wapping Group. Salmagundi’s early history was predominately male but during the last several decades has welcomed females into its prestigious organization, even promoting Claudia Seymour to serve as its most recent president. At the same time, England’s esteemed Wapping Group remains exclusively male. After comparing the two countries, Putnam feels somewhat encouraged about our “modern” world here at home.
Having said all this, Putnam is still amazed to see the look on someone’s face when she reports that this is what she does for a living…that it’s not a hobby.
Putnam continues…Over the past year and a half, I have spoken at length about all of this to some of the men whom I consider to be among the most influential in our art world. I am not sure, just yet, that they clearly appreciate the situation, or have any idea how they can help, but I do feel I have made them more aware. Awareness that talented, successful women artists exist seems to be the first step to acceptance, respect, and equality. Unfortunately, for now, awareness involves labeling us in that way…as “women” artists. I long for the day when the word “women” can be totally dropped from the description and is in no way part of identifying what we do. Along those lines, if I am totally honest, I have to add that I am not a fan of any type of art group that separates itself with labels – specifically those which describe race, gender, etc.

Dawn Whitelaw   Historically, in America, it is obvious that men and women artists have been treated differently. I have seen this condition improve greatly over the past few years. I expect the trend of accepting women artists on equal footing to continue. I know it has gotten better during the course of my career. I see great changes in the number of women who are invited to exhibit in museums. Contemporary women artists are now widely collected and often featured in magazines. They are invited to lecture, and to judge exhibitions. Women are included in major exhibitions, often receiving top prizes. Some inequality certainly still lingers, but I am grateful for the remarkable improvement in opportunities for women artists today.

Dawn Whitelaw – “Conversion” – 9″x 14″ – Oil

These are the ways I would like to see women artists change in response to these more favorable conditions.
1)  Outstanding painters, like Carolyn Anderson, Jill Carver and others are accelerating the respect women artists receive today. The equality will happen even more quickly as more “top-notch” women painters emerge. We all should raise our personal standards of excellence. Decades ago, when Bettina Steinke was asked about the plight of women in art, she shrugged and said “women should just paint better”.
2)  Gender exclusive organizations seem to send a message of weakness rather than strength. Groups and shows exclusively for women don’t seem to be appropriate any more. If we women want a level playing field, then that’s the field where we should be willing to play. It’s time to take off the training wheels.
3)  I think women should acknowledge that some of the roadblocks for female artists with families also apply to male artists with families. Many men and women have to wait until they retire from the job that provides income and benefits for their family, in order to pursue a full time career in art. Those of us who got a late start in our careers bring an intensity, focus, passion and maturity to the table. The experience of family is a great positive, not a negative. During the years when I had to paint in short, stolen patches of time, I learned to be a very efficient painter.
4)  We women should be honest in facing what is really holding us back. Is it the lack of appreciation in our culture for women artists, or is it some internal factor such as a failure to fully commit? Could it be guilt for taking time out for ourselves, or even laziness, that is our stumbling block? Do we suffer from timidity or lack of confidence? We won’t be fully able to take advantage of opportunities that do come our way until we deal with some of these internal issues.

One really fine artist, who prefers to remain anonymous, feels that many women are viewed as mere hobbyists and not serious painters who will work hard, day after day, in order to create work of consistent quality and in reliable quantities to support a gallery and their deadlines.
She knows a number of women who view painting as a hobby…and yet they want to “be in a gallery”. She believes one’s attitude contributes to the way female artists may be viewed…plus, some work can look feminine and sweet and may not be well received. My friend comes from a management background in business, for many years the only woman to hold that position in the company. 
“Ultimately, it still comes down to good work, growing in strength, providing consistent inventory to galleries, and taking the risk of applying for shows; not worrying about being turned down…just keep trying…just like the Nike slogan, ‘Just do it'”.
Her choice and recommendation in dealing with any perceived or real bias is to work hard, continually challenge oneself to raise the bar; maintain a professional, courteous and business-like relationship with galleries, vendors, industry publications, and event coordinators…and take a show turn-down as a challenge to do better…and just keep going. 

Thanks to you ladies for your participation in this discussion and your honest comments. Next week we will hear from: Kim Casebeer, Barbara Jaenicke, Cindy Baron, and Kathryn Stats…and of course, since it’s my blog, I’ll add my 2-cents worth.

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