‘HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATUS OF ARTISTS TODAY? DO WE STILL THINK IN TERMS OF BIG ‘STARS’? ARE THEY STILL PREDOMINANTLY MALE? IS THERE STILL A HIERARCHY THAT PRIVILEGES PAINTING AND SCULPTURE OVER ART FORMS LIKE TEXTILES? WHAT ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY?’
Artists today have greater exposure than ever before thanks to the internet and this applies to art from history as well as modern artists. For me, even just researching and answering this question I have discovered artists in different genres and without the use of social media I would not have come across some ceramic artists and sculpturers or even painters that I am starting to get to know and love. As I state at the very end of these notes we do still talk of big ‘names’ or ‘stars’ in the same way we talk of top actors and actresses but the ‘names’ are usually done within their specific genre of art, whether that is applied or fine art or digital art, with the exception of the biggest names of all which get the exposure in the media.
To answer this question I have decided to break the art forms down into their genres as I am still getting to know the different arts in this new form i.e. as a textiles and art student and the question over male predominance is one in most I am unsure about. I researched through general internet searches and make notes of names in each genre in part for my own future reference as some of the artists I have come across are of personal interest.
I will start with the last art form – photography. This is an area I have great personal interest in because my own brother is a professional photographer in the USA and his profession does seem to be still very much male dominated on the surface but when I started to research this area I discovered there are women at the top of their game who are competing on a very level playing field and I found some amazing women such as Sally Mann (www.sallymann.com) and Carrie Mae Weems (www.carriemaeweems.net/) as well as Anni Leibovitz and Anne Geddes whose names are familiar to many.
However I decided to directly ask my brother on this question as he is very directly involved and he feels many women work part time in the fields of wedding or high school prom or similar because being a top photographer involves long hours and a lot of travel as well as pushing beyond your comfort zone and many reach a plateau which is comfortable for them – I can understand that because I was happy with the standard in my chosen textiles for a long period but it is only the past 4-5 years I have wanted to push beyond my own self imposed boundaries. It seems that there is a split too between different genres of photography over whether there is male or female dominance with newspaper photography, sport and travel/editorial being still mainly male and then the high school or school photography or wedding being female, Three very different female photographers my brother pointed me in the direction of are Lara Jade (www.larajade.co.uk) whose work is more familiar than I expect as she does a huge amount of magazine front cover photography, Sue Bryce of http://www.inbedwithsue.com who is a top Australian portrait photographer and also Brooke Shaden of http://www.brookeshaden.com who I will be researching further as her work is fine art photography and very conceptual.
Whether or not in fact the reason for this overall male dominance is because of women not wanting to go beyond their comfort zone or whether it is because the profession has been so male dominated it is hard to break through that is another question. I did however realise that I now know more female photographers than men and certainly their work intrigues.
I then have had a brief look at ceramics which is an area of applied arts I am only just getting to know but is proving of great interest too – I find the forms of ceramics particularly beautiful and the history fascinating. The first ceramic artists I have come across were female but then further research showed much more a split on one website http://www.top10listland.com describing 10 top ceramic artists 6 were male and there is a shift towards male dominance slowly – this website has proved useful because it has opened my eyes to other ceramic artists. One huge name for 2014 was of course Paul Cummins who was the ceramic artist behind the poppies display at the Tower of London to mark 100 years since the start of World War 1 (and living in Derby he is also a local artist to me) but a name I knew was Jennifer McCurdy and wonder how much economic or social factors have on this dominance or whether there are other factors instead.
Before I look at sculpture and painting with regards to the question I will mention textiles as I am aware of the quilting artists (this is still very much a female dominated area but interestingly there are many top males too and names that very familiar to many such as Kaffe Fassett whose work spans different textile forms or Ricky Timms who is a well known American quilter and also David Taylor who is a textile artist, quilter and fiber artist. Art quilts are very definitely looked down upon by the art ‘elite’ or not even considered art despite the skills and time involved – many art quilts are very innovative in their specialist field. I do very firmly get the impression that textiles of any nature are not ranked in the same way that painting and sculptures are except for tapestries and embroideries but this maybe due to their historical significance.
The Royal School of Needlework is very much part of the art hierarchy and historically the embroiderers were male and female during the middle ages and both sexes were allowed to be members of embroiderers guilds which was unusual despite the fact that many decorative arts were done mainly by female artists and now it seems most top embroiderers are female and this also applies to textile artisans too. Courtesy of http://www.bellaonline.com I have discovered that male embroiders are making their mark again in professions ranging from designers to costumiers and thanks to the popularity of the re-enactment societies many amateur male embroiderers are becoming known too (this site has given me some personal interest reading and links to those male embroiderers to follow up too).
I will touch on graphic art and fantasy art – Alan Lee, John Howe, Frank Miller and Alan Moore are all names I am familiar with due to personal interest. Graphic art and fantasy art covers sketching, painting and digital art too and commonly involved in the film world – these art forms are well respected within their industry but not really considered, in my experience, part of the art world itself as yet despite the considerable skills and level of talent involved. H R Giger is a sculpturer as well as artist/painter whose work is incredibly well known worldwide but my question here is what the hierarchy in the art world think of him as his work is very much fantasy and quite bizarre.
Finally regarding sculpture and painting – I do believe these are still very much male dominated and like photography there are female artists at the top but they are still much fewer. I am starting to investigate sculptors and painters who are very current and the names that I am starting to really get to know include Rob Gonsalves, David Young, Gregoire A Meyer, James Corbett (who uses car parts to create sculptures) and Benjamin Lacombe – all male sculptors. When looking through the website http://www.LondonArt.co.uk it is still male predominance and yet again females breaking through to the top seem rarer rather than the norm – there are names such as of Tracy Emin and also a German woman called Kiki Smith and also Aleah Chapin who are well known and stand out because they are women.
In trying to investigate whether there is this male dominance I have discovered many more names and links to further websites which have been noted in a separate notebook to follow up and investigate. So for the questions at the start of this post – there is no question that we still think in terms of ‘big stars’ in each area of art whether painting, ceramic, textiles or any other applied or fine arts and anyone who has a specialist interest in one or more of those areas will be able to name their favourite artists and for personally my heroine is Jinny Beyer in the quilting world. Everyone knows of the names of Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst and also Banksy and even though these artists works may be considered controversial at times for the art elite or establishment they are considered ‘names’ – even though Banksy is looked down upon by many as he is a street artist.
I do also definitely feel there is very much still a hierarchy that puts painting and sculpture above ceramics and textiles and other applied arts but the gap caused by this hierarchy is narrowing as art becomes more accessible to people in general and more students are taking up various forms of applied arts as their degrees and careers. There is still what is considered ‘the establishment’ regarding painters who judge and critique art who do not consider applied arts or even some photographers worthy artists in their own rights. The male predominance is still very much apparent in that hierarchy too – I do question this hierarchy is because many applied arts are not considered classical arts despite their long histories (with photography, graphic art and digital arts being the new kids on the block)
Coming back to what my brother about the fact that many women reach a plateau where they are comfortable with photography I now question whether this is the case or whether it is just incredibly difficult in some male dominated areas for women to break through as it can seem like swimming against the tide at times or whether it is down to the politics, economics and social factors of the previous question.
Please note I am writing this after the end of the course as I review my blogs in preparation for assessment and have discovered some blogs in which I had not correctly noted my references down. I had yet to learn how to use the Harvard Referencing system and where possible I have updated the blogs but in some cases such as this I can only refer to the blog named BIBLIOGRAPHY in my Research and Reference section for a general list of sites were used during this first part of the course