I am pleased that you want to write more reviews about artists who are women after you read Maura Reilly’s Art News article on gender disparity in the visual arts. It strikes me as a problem, though, that if you only found the work of 17 women interesting enough to write about before considering their gender that if you seek out more artwork by women to write about, the issue of importance remains----did you look at their work because you felt it was important and interesting in itself, or to rectify your previous omission? When I read Reilly’s article it occurred to me that at least part of the problem for women is one of perspective, especially the perspective held by the viewer of what is ‘important.’ Because the subjects that a woman finds important because of her life experience may well be different than what a man finds important because of his. It is an old distinction in the history of painting, most obvious in still life. Norman Bryson wrote eloquently about the concepts of megalography and rhopography and their relationship to gender in Looking at the Overlooked: “For as long as painting’s mode of vision would be constructed by men, the space in which women were obliged to lead their lives would be taken from them and imagined through the values of the ‘greater’ existence from which they were excluded.”
It takes a revolution of perspective to see past one’s own expectations. When you are a cat in a world of cats, it may be difficult to empathize with the perspective of a rat. When you are a man looking at a woman’s artwork, a leap of empathy may be needed, a change in perspective, an openness to unsettling your previous judgments about hierarchy and importance. Looking at art allows one to try on another person’s eyes for a while, to look about in their brain, to see into their life and philosophy. Importance necessarily shifts from artist to artist; judgment must be suspended until the other world view is fully inhabited.
You may not remember an evening five years ago spent visiting the studios at a small art school, but I vividly remember the first sentence you spoke as you entered my space: “Why so domestic?”
I was taken aback at the time, and didn’t have a chance to answer your question with my own: Why not? Our inner lives are most revealed in the privacy of the home. It is a space all share; everyone goes to sleep somewhere, has parents somewhere, fill the needs of the body somewhere. Domesticity is universal. Why would that be your first question unless, as I guessed to myself later, you felt that such a subject was unimportant and therefore my interest in the home needed to be justified?
It is the puzzle of perspective – we look at the same thing with different eyes --- and whose view is closer to the truth?
Life is lived within the circumference of gender. To make artwork about something means the artist feels such a thing is important, should be looked at, thought about, remembered. One’s own sphere of experience affects all definitions of importance. When you go out looking at women’s artwork with the intent to write more equitable reviews, I would like to ask you to stop and question what assumptions you bring with you. Can you make the leap of empathy – can the cat see a rat’s world with rat-like eyes?
Some day when you next look at my artwork, I hope you might not look at it straight with all your old judgments and assumptions, but slant, and backwards, and sideways, to see from where it was lived, and with what concern and wonderment.
Regard a Mouse
O'erpowered by the Cat!
Reserve within thy kingdom
A "Mansion" for the Rat!
Snug in seraphic Cupboards
To nibble all the day
While unsuspecting Cycles
Wheel solemnly away!