Deep Thought Thursday: Gender issues

In a recent issue of his wonderful Twice-Weekly Newsletter, Robert Genn wrote:

I was recently asked to support a group show exclusive to women. While the motives for this sort of thing may be noble and temporarily empowering, I don’t buy it. I don’t support anything that discriminates by age, race or gender. If someone invited me to support a show for men only, I wouldn’t. I want to live blind to all that sort of stuff. In my experience, most jurors bend over backwards to get it right. I just wish the general public (and a few dealers) did the same.

What do you think of women-only exhibits? Or men-only exhibits for that matter?

What about women-only organizations?

What are the pros and cons of gender-specific events and organizations?

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8 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: Gender issues

  • Don’t most shows have a common theme? Why couldn’t the common theme then, be gender? Besides, in studying art history, most exhibits, even to this day, are men only. Women occupy a very small space in the art world, less than 30% (and it’s not due to lack of female artists)! Ever heard of the Guerilla Girls? (www.guerillagirls.com) They’ve been combating the lack of female artists in exhibits for over a decade. It would be nice to live in a world that was blind to race or gender, or any of the other dichotomies and paradigms that keep us disconnected from one another. However, the fact of the matter is, these paradigms DO exist, and we all participate in them (willingly or not) on a regular basis, mostly unconsciously because they are so widely integrated in the way our society is set up. Ignoring issues like race and gender only perpetrate them by allowing them to continue forward unchecked. At least, in shows themed around artists who are women, or men, or latina, or native american, or whatever it might be, we have the opportunity to confront these issues head on instead of burying our head in the sand. Plus, I think any opportunity for minority groups to exhibit their work helps to empower them (and the rest of us) toward a world where one day dichotomies and paradigms like gender melt away, and all that is left is the creative spark. But, until that day, it doesn’t do anybody (except the dominant “gender”) any good to pretend there is no such thing as gender. Sarah

  • There are some good juried all-female artist groups that put on some decent shows, and I can see how being a member of these groups would be a good way to network with other female artists in a mostly male-dominated profession. However, I don’t think these shows do much to advance women in the arts, despite the fact that that is their goal. The premise of these shows essentially states that women are a small percentage of professional artists and in need of help to get their work in the spotlight – this ends up working against these shows by belittling the women who participate in them from the start. However, having a good network of artist friends is always one of the best forms of support an artist can have, and if an all-female organization can bring together women who might not otherwise meet, then it’s probably doing it’s job… I wish we didn’t have to seperate ourselves by gender at all. I come from engineering which is extremely male-dominated, and when I applied to college the engineering school waved my application fees because I was female. Nothing makes me more angry than this sort of preference – I paid the fees anyhow, and I’d like to say I got into engineering school and succeeded in that career based on my skills, not my gender (fulfilling a quota). I would hate to see this sort of reverse-discrimination enter the arts.

  • I have to agree with Robert on this one. As a female, I have more opportunities to enter art exhibits exclusive to women. I’ve never seen a prospectus specific to men, that would never be tolerated. I also choose not to participate in these types of shows. Gender is something that we have no control over (without surgery anyway), and since art is not a test of physical strength it is truly a field where men and women can be equal. I think it is more “empowering” for an artist to exhibit their work when the scale hasn’t been tipped in their favor and the achievement is realized strictly by the quality of their work.

  • My high school was separated into gals and guys and never the twain should meet (the library was between the school wings). I have no problem with gender based shows – and won’t repeat why since Sarah did such a bang up job. I will note that some shows may not be titled “men only” but because of biases and power and “who I know” they become men only. I blogged about that using an “Art in America” 9/2008 article here: http://tammyvitale.typepad.com/women_art_life_weaving_it/2008/08/vision-journal.html

  • I appreciate Robert Genn’s perspective and reasons. Sarah and Tammy speak to the opposite opinion very well, and I agree with them, too. I wonder why we accept that being in a well produced show of all women artists will “not forward a woman’s art career”. I like the idea that someone organizing a show might include the theme: what to women have to say on this theme, or what do men have to say. Or what do elders have to say, or under 25s, or veterans, or artists living will illness or disabilities, and the list goes on. What communities need are more shows and themes that stretch the perception and art experience of the public, and more support to make the presentation, venue, and work of the highest possible quality.

  • I’ve never been a member of a women’s group or took part in a show for women artists. If being part a a group offers a support that you need or enjoy, more power to you! If an isolated show has that particular theme or qualification for the artists, so be it. If the work reflects a gender issue, it’s pertinent. Otherwise, does it matter? I don’t know if I’ve ever been qualified/disqualified because I’m a woman (with a name like Tracy, it could be easily read either way). My gut tells me that things like this have more of a tendency to segregate than to open up understanding. So, being a member of a select group could initially open a door for you to get your work shown. The ultimate judge as to whether there’s sustaining power is in the hands of the viewing public.

  • All: You are all very wise. I guess this was skewed to women, so only women responded. But I’d love to hear what men think. I am naturally disinclined to encourage women-only groups and women-only exhibits. However, I did have a few feminist art-history courses and could also be persuaded. I don’t think that women-only groups will change any biases at all.