BY PAMELA BOWMAN, MANHATTAN, USA — I walked through the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art experiencing the work of great artists through the ages. It was an overwhelming experience. On each wall, in each crevice and around every corner was a record in some form of our history. I kept searching because I felt it was not complete. It was not whole. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Cyndi, where is the artwork of the women? Where can I see paintings by women?” My question did not surprise her, but she did take a moment to answer. “There were very few women artists during the Renaissance period. It was not thought that women could be great artists. They were expected to stay home and tend to the children and take care of the house.”
“But wait, I have seen movies where women are tutored in art … like Sense and Sensibility.”
“Tutored as a school exercise yes, but not seriously taught as a career. Men could take the time to develop their skills, women did not have the luxury of time.”
She was trying to diplomatic. I was appalled.
“How can human history be really accurate without the perspective of women? You have got to be kidding me? There were no women artists? What if they wanted to pursue art? Would they be allowed to?” Later research revealed that there were a few women painters of the Renaissance but most of them were taught by famous fathers and created only miniatures. It didn’t appear that any women were making their living creating art. Surely there must have been women who wanted to create art as a way of living. The only famous woman artist she could come up with was Artemisia Gentileschi.
Cyndi brought me to a room where there were sculptures by Auguste Rodin and his confidante and lover, Camille Claudel. As a young woman, she studied at the Académie Colarossi with sculptor Alfred Boucher. At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts barred women from enrolling to study. A gifted sculptor and graphic artist, she caught Rodin’s eye in 1883. An idea of how women artists were received? The famous art critic Octave Mirbeau wrote that Claudel was “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”
My heart was heavy as room after room showed the meticulous work of male artists. It seemed that so many of the pieces lacked warmth. The level of skill was exquisite but there was a dimension that was often absent. Perhaps it was the lack of feminine interpretation of life. How much richer our history might be if we all are encouraged to participate equally.
My first thought was, “Good thing I live in the world today.” But then we started the discussion of today. Is it much different? We find more women artists in the world of art than at any other time. But, how many is that, really? In my medium of film, how many women are represented? How many women directors do we have? Producers? Cinematographers? How are they received? The small numbers reflect the truth.
This is NOT a discussion of division but of inclusion. What would be possible if we all were included. I would NOT want people to look at my work simply because I am a woman any more than I would want to have my work NOT taken seriously because I am a woman.
The difficulty is that in the past many women behaved more masculine in order to pursue their dreams. While women entered the art (and other) arenas, the feminine was still missing. Everyone has something to offer this world. It seems that we should embrace our differences and relish in the three-dimensional realm of possibility when all are represented. I believe that I have something to offer and each of you do as well. It is the contribution of all of the points of view that is important.
Today we have the choice to support and nurture each other. It is my hope that one day, my grandchildren will be walking those same halls of that same museum but it will be different as the scope of art becomes wider and deeper. The artwork of today will reflect a fuller spectrum because we’re all represented. The picture it provides will be more complete. Wholly representative of the human experience.