Forging oneself into history is not always an elaborate act of will or through an unseen and violent force. It can be as ordinary as writing a letter, as painstaking as conducting scientific research with detailed notes, as careful as a brushstroke across a canvas. Women have always had a profound influence upon society, and it’s only now, as a result of the various waves of feminism, that society is recognizing the powerfulness of womanhood and the importance of women in the arts.
Maybe you’ve heard of Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and Claude Monet, but you’ve never heard of Kay Sage, Edmonia Lewis or Louise Moillon. When we learn about art in school, we mostly learn about the male artists, and men tend to be credited the most as the catalysts for art and related social movements. For centuries, many women were denied access to art schools or artist guilds. Art had been seen as a man’s domain, and women didn’t belong.
Art, whether it takes the form of a painting, a novel, a song or a play, both reflects and transforms society. It can reveal the thoughts of the artist or her experience of her culture, while creating connection or inspiring empathy that can transfer into an entire movement. The transformative power of art can also be very subtle, one movement at a time, as true change tends to be a process. And while the making of art is not always for the purpose of transforming society, it still remarks upon the culture within which it lives.
Finding new artists requires only a search online. You could be introduced to the deep and thought-provoking visual and performance installations from L.A.-based Martine Syms, a twenty-something “conceptual entrepreneur” (as she calls herself) whose work has been exhibited in many art museums across the United States and overseas. One of her art installations, Fact & Trouble, can be seen at the ICA in London and reveals the nature of lived experience versus our representation of it.
New York-based Canadian artist Chloe Wise creates mixed-media collections like her Full-Sized Body, Erotic Literature installation that examines the links between consumptive culture, pleasure and lust, and includes a realistic recreation of dripping Chinese take-out and a sparkling diamond engagement ring wrapped around a slimy piece of shrimp. Another part of her exhibit features an oil-on-canvas painting of a solitary rose in an empty room, with Chinese letters above its closed blood-red petals and the phrase “Music Lover, Dancing, Erotic Literature, Motorcycles, I am a Social Drinker”, like the start of a personal ad for the newspaper.
These young women, and many others, are making waves in the art world, and their work not only contributes to the movement of women within the arts but also to the conversations within the culture at large. Sometimes we can see ourselves, sometimes we can see beyond everything we think we know. That is the power of women in the arts.
Do you have any favorite or interesting women artists that you would like to tell us about? Share with us on Twitter @feather_mag and let’s talk!