Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The role of an Artist

The Artist is a traditionally male role while ‘craft’ is female.

In art, the only great distinction between art and craft is practicality or usage. Craft creates an object that is functional, art creates, depending on how pretentious one is feeling, a mirror to the world or to the artist or something purely art-esque. Arts function is in its nature. And in this it has been lauded, oil painters praised while rope makers dismissed, the difference between blue collar and white collar work as it were. Before I fully lose my thread let me return to the gendered aspect of this; that craft is female and art- high art-revered art is male.

A tapestry is incomparable to a sculpture; we will never know who embroidered the cover of the Baldacchino but we sure as hell will know who sculpted it and will for many centuries. The difference, male art versus female art (which from hence is what I will refer to instead of craft.)

What I want to examine in this idea of the silent female, the systematic devaluing of female contributions to the creative field specifically within literature, the history of art and in academic fields.
"These women are my inspirational women"

They understand that the validation of self is much more important than a name in the annuls. It is something I aspire to, with curbing my own rampant pride in creating for others what I should just enjoy, the ability to create and contribute to a greater whole. My issue is not with admiring female art, nor do I laud a society that actively forgot them while heaping fame upon their male counterparts. Take the works of Sappho, for example. A great female poet writing at a similar time to Aristophanes and Euripides, and yet all that remains of her work is fragments, while theirs are preserved in their reems. Yet Sappho was prolific and her work highly influential in the rise of lyric poetry.

The issue here is art needs an audience; an artist needs an audience. What I aspire for is that art shakes off its shackles of pretension, of self-importance and the artist shakes off the necessity of this audience and we return to a craft that focuses of the importance of creating. Hell, let's start reading hoover manuals with the same passion that we read Dickens or Bronte.

Humour aside, let us continue on my ode to unsung female artists.Suffering for one's art is often thrown around among artists and I want to explore that a bit.

"No hoover manual writer has ever felt the need to swoon over their Herculean labour or proclaim themselves to be speaking for a generation. "

The Romantic notion of creating through the destruction of self-has given rise to such self-indulgence, such a trope of the misunderstood artist that it has become pervasive to the way we view art. Exhibitions are curated as biographies, ‘in spite of X number of exceptional setbacks and tremendously unfortunate circumstances Y has managed to create Z’, the piece on the pedestal now confronting you with its mediocrity or its brilliance. How would you know?

"You are not an artiste you have not experienced this incredible suffering."

Art has become a privileged place for those with just enough talent and just enough entitlement to really suffer; to disregard family and friends; to squander and waste every basic happiness to give into their entitlement and claim greatness. Great artists must be selfish with their laser-focused tunnel vision to their project. That is accepted.

However, if I said I wanted a divorce to focus on my rope making I would be taken away by men in white coats. At this point, males and females indulge this selfishness equally (Tracey Emin looking at you.) Of course-oversimplification and I am not belittling all modern art as mollycoddled rubbish, just most of it...

Before I start ranting into the abyss and lose you, dear reader, let us focus on the two points I’ve made so far: female art has been devalued historically, and, art itself is devalued by an emphasis upon the suffering of the artist. How do these connect I hear you say, scratching your head, well let's look at it that female art is devalued due to the dismissal of its creators’ suffering in the way that much female suffering has historically been dismissed. One cannot create meaningful artistic content if in conventional vision one’s life is not meaningful.

*mic drop*

OK before I go all "Obama out" on you, bare with me while I explain. Sylvia Plath and Frida Kahlo. Most women will have heard of them, their faces and quotes are quite literally plastered all over Tumblr. Both of these women are divisive, they’re either the victims of the strong powerful, artistic men in their life. Or they’re selfish, unstable gorgon-like characters who paralysed the men in their lives from achieving their full potential. Whilst, in part thanks to the Tumblr generation, our impressions of these women has slowly become more positive, in their own lifetimes they were hated, similar to the more recently relevant Yoko Ono.

They entrapped men in their own brand of crazy, whether that is mental or physical. It didn’t matter that these men had their own issues (tortured artists remember) any failings on their part were down to these women. Forget that Plath moved continents for Hughes or that Kahlo turned a blind eye to affair after affair, they are to blame for the way their stories ended. The male artist is obviously forgiven because they were an artist living outside of conventional norms. The focus on these women is on their ill health, not the art they created in spite of it.

"Ask someone who Plath is and most will know her as "that bird who stuck her head in an oven.""

(Excuse me while I roll my eyes so far back, they roll out my fucking head.)

As I’ve mentioned before, in our "tolerant" society of 2018, these negative connotations are slowly starting to be overlooked in favour or their art or at least discussed in the context of their lives. Indeed in our new "tolerant" society, the idea of selling, well yourself is normal, reality TV makes the entire output of someone’s life their life. So let's look at these shows, women are still the first to be demonised by editing cuts and press releases. We are called "bitchy" or "jealous;" "a slag" or "prudish." Men, however, are "the lads." The difference is now we can disagree with the surrounding narrative. Now, these women can push back against "the lads."

Even female art (note I still say female) has its emerging front-runners now of people challenging suffering. For example, the traditionally female diseases of eating disorders dismissed for so long as excessive vanity and the poor weak female brain being led by the media printing skinny women are getting covered by female artists now. Louise Bourgeois is one of my favourite sculptors for her play on the grotesque and bodily, be it fleshy knots or spidery sinewy monsters. She captures the issue of viscerally having to inhabit a form so capable of change or damage, of the warped perception or public view of this form, as monstrous or vulnerable.

It is similar to Jenny Saville’s masterpieces of oil painted flesh, the female form as hideously oversized, bulbous and bruise coloured. She has taken something traditionally vulnerable, a naked female form, and given it the kind of terrifying power it should have.

"These artists are reclaiming the notion of the artist as stronger than their demons."

Or at least embracing of them like Yayoi Kasuma embracing her hallucinations by externalising them to the room around her and immersing others in them.

So, I hope you have enjoyed this romp into exploring the role of women in art! Let me end my love letter to female creatives by saying, beware women and the crafts, because for millennia we have been ignored. So now, we have our voices and our control back, and slowly but surely our art is being elevated.

"We are exorcising our demons, our insecurities and our mental illness, and we are celebrating them."

Natasha is a writer hailing from London but now making her way north.  Living in York, she spends her days in culinary delight; despite relying on getting her sustenance from toast as an artist, writer and cook she truly is a renaissance woman. As a firm believer in the healing power of food and a strong drink, her effortless air both inspires and excites.

Instagram: natashadoley

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