Friday, September 23, 2016

Paving the road for art

How do we get to where we are? Some parts of the path are clear but there can be an underlying script running in the background. One that helps or hinders.

For girls that script is often about self-deprecation. In an effort to be "nice" we make ourselves "less." As one of 5 sisters (plus 2 brothers) and the mother of 4 daughters, I think I know that script pretty well.

Realistically and statistically, although we make up 50% of the world's population, women are underrepresented in nearly all careers. In the art world the difference is extreme. To even that score one step is to help girls give themselves permission to do... whatever they aspire to do.

To that end, I'm introducing my grandchildren to the possibility that they can be artists.

Here's our youngest exploring art at the exhibit at Muscoot. (If this seems like just a ploy to post a photo of this sweet child, I won't argue.)

I'm told that she did not fully appreciate the large animals at the farm. They were a little scary - clearly she already likes art better.

But seriously, it's important for kids to feel like they can be creative. And sometimes they return the favor, as I described in my very first blog post when another grandchild gave me courage.

My art path took a long time to develop. Along the way there was discouragement from some totally unexpected places.

In a pastel class years ago, our teacher was an abstract artist who exhibited at galleries in NYC. Quite an accomplishment, to be sure. We were doing still life and mine included one of my kids' scruffy teddy bears. In imparting her professional wisdom she suggested I pick a subject with "a mythological or humanist story" because "you obviously can draw, but in 'The Art World,' to get ahead, you should never let them know that you're a mother." She was serious.

Denying my kids was never going to be an option. But, apparently, denying our femaleness might help an art career. I'm not bitter, because I haven't really tried as seriously as others have, but I feel their frustration.

My frustrations have been smaller. Going back to finish my college degree I was told, "Oh no, you can't pursue art part time." The explanation was you had to be a "serious artist" to get an art degree and that translated to "full time student."

Well, I was feeling quite serious considering I wanted to do this with four kids at home. But rules are rules. So I took all the art classes that "part time" would allow, eventually got my BA, rather than the coveted BFA and have continued studying privately. It may not be the same but I've learned a lot and experienced a lot.

So what does all this mean? Life's not fair. Sometimes you have to work harder than the next guy to get what you want. Maybe, if you really want it, it won't seem so much like work.

Ryan Speedo Green, photo from YouTube
Much of this came to mind this week after listening to an NPR interview with Ryan Speedo Green who happens to be, by his own description, a very large black man who developed a love for opera singing. He's had a hard life and a harder time getting people to take him seriously as an opera singer. But the man sings! And he's sung at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a fascinating look at one person's determination to overcome obstacles that just shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just be objectively supportive, not allowing preconceived notions to get in the way of our own, or someone else's, heart's desire?

I guess I'm preparing my attitude, trying to keep it tempered with practicality as I'm about to attend the American Women Artists national art exhibit and symposium on women and the arts in Bennington. I expect to hear lots of statistics and stories about how women are underrepresented in the art world (they are) and fired up talk about feminism (sadly necessary). What I don't expect is to accept these facts as excuses to fail or to maintain the status quo.

I need to remember that my own attitude and effort are, for now, the only defense I have against gender inequality - until the world wises up. I know I have to work harder. When it comes to equal opportunities and respect for women we're moving in the right direction, but I'm not holding my breath.
Uh oh, another feminist subject. Maybe it needs a cigar... or a rifle...?!

PS - to all the new folks who recently signed up for my blog/newsletter, this is longer and more personal than my posts typically are. Hang in there. There are lighter, more artsy, posts to come.

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