What’s the matter with this picture?

If young women—who should be the most interested in changing this—cling to outmoded and incorrect ideas about the value of women’s art, is there any hope?

Pull up your big girl panties, at Rye Arts Center this month.

I am not going to have the time to write a proper blog. Portland Jetport has been like a morgue for the last few years, but today it’s packed (and therefore slower to clear TSA than normal). America is on the move, and that’s a good thing.

But I’d like to point out a repeated conversation I’ve had this week. It’s been with people of both genders and all ages, but the worrisome part to me is how many young women have told me that it’s not true that you can’t tell men’s and women’s paintings apart. That’s something I mentioned in my talk in Rye, here (scroll down), and in my blog post, here. That was, in some cases, even after they ‘failed’ the test below. They made excuses.

Michelle reading, at Rye Arts Center this month.

There have been many studies worldwide that document this phenomenon. The most exhaustive was done in 2017. It analyzed 1.5 million auction transactions in 45 countries, and found a 47.6% gender discount in prices. The discount was worst (unsurprisingly) in countries with greater overall gender disparity.

My painting pal Chrissy Pahucki questioned whether it was different for plein air painters, so she ran a test among her middle school students. I shared the test with my adult students, and, last I heard, the guesses were in the same range as random chance—around 51.95% correct guesses.

Saran Wrap Cynic, at Rye Arts Center this month.

I can’t take it because I can identify too much of the work, but perhaps you can. Try to avoid looking at the signatures if you can see them.

Here’s the link. I’m curious if a bigger sample will show a different result, but I doubt it.

As for what I can do to change attitudes about the gender pay disparity in painting, I’m at a loss. If young women—who should be the most interested in changing this—cling to outmoded and incorrect ideas about the value of women’s art, is there any hope?

I’m off to teach my workshop in Sedona and boarding in just a few minutes. I’ll revisit this soon, I promise.

Cleaning vs. painting: the great dilemma

Some people can paint no matter how messy their house is. I’m not one of them.

My studio on a bad day, by Carol L. Douglas
I saw my friend Karen at the Farmers Market on Saturday. “Do you paint every day?” she asked me. I had to laugh. I hadn’t picked up a brush in almost a week.
True, I worked non-stop from June until the end of September. On October 1, I declared myself on vacation and spent the week with my grandchildren and some treasured friends. Sadly, that wasn’t the end of my time off. There was still mail to answer, a piano tuner to call, and windows to be cleaned before winter. A summer without a hausfrauleft this place downright grimy.
OK, so it wasnt’ the only bad day.
I’ve written before about the difficulties of working from home. They’re my problem and not my husband’s. His office is next to my studio, the two spaces separated by a glass wall. He spends his days staring at monitors. Apparently, this transforms him to another dimension. He can plug away without noticing anything. On the other hand, I’m irritated and distracted by disorder. Let it get bad enough and I’m completely immobilized. I find it confusing, and distracting.
This is a common problem, but one I hear about mostly from other women artists. I’ve always thought of it as a uniquely female problem, one of the few gender differences I’d admit to. Last week I had coffee with Rockland painter Stephan Giannini. He was as distracted as me, but about his roof. I guess it’s not about gender after all, but about what side hustles demand your attention.
Butter dish, by Carol L. Douglas
I know two professional cleaners. I asked them how long it takes to turn over a summer rental unit compared to cleaning their own homes. They figured they could turn a rental property over in two hours or less. (The biggest time-consumer is the laundry.) Their own homes took much longer. I asked them why.
“Every time I turn my back there is a mess being made around me!” said Sarah Wardman, who has four young kids.
“Cleaning my own house always takes longer than it would for a cleaner to do because I get sidetracked with tidying, or little put-off projects,” said Naomi Fiehler Aho. Naomi retires at the end of the year, which will allow her to make art full time.
I forgot how fun some of these things were to paint.
Later, I ran into D., who is an artist who also owns a seasonal rental. He and his wife do the turnover together. It takes them longer than the pros—basically a full day between the two of them. “But our own home is a wreck,” he added, laughing.
My friend Toby has convinced me to embrace the ideas of KonMari, although nothing ever really stays joyously, starkly, beautiful in my house. Three years after moving here, our closets, attic basement, and, especially, kitchen are bursting at the seams. This winter, I’m going to be systematically weeding out. I don’t like doing it, but it will make for a better season next year.
But before that happens, I need to make this place surface clean. Nova Scotia painter Poppy Balseris coming to visit tomorrow and we’re going to paint.

Why do you do what you do?

It is possible to be a successful woman artist and mother, if one has an exceptional husband, good time-management skills, and an iron will.
Daddy’s little helper, 2015, Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I was reveling in the simplicity of my job. I had planned no deep thinking; it would be a day alone with my brushes.
That never works. “Why do you do what you do?” asked a regular reader.
The easy answer is that it’s the only thing I know how to do. A little honesty compels me to admit that this isn’t entirely true. I can write. I could retire if I want. Clearly, something besides necessity drives me.
In fact, my reader sensed that. “Why do you teach, travel all over the place, produce as much work as you do?” she continued. “Is working at that pace a habit, or something deeper?”
Maternité, 1890, Mary Cassatt. Cassatt, the greatest painter of the mother-child bond, had no children of her own.
Yes, I was raised to work hard, and it’s an ingrained habit. Still, I do take time off. A chance conversation with a Mennonite contractor years ago turned me into a Sabbatarian. He explained what a tremendous gift a regularly-scheduled Sabbath day was. There are a few weekends a year I can’t take off, but in general, you’ll find me working six days and resting on the seventh.
I like painting and I like being on the road. I like the challenge of sizing up new places and trying to reformat them to a 12X16 canvas.
But mostly, I work like this because I can. It’s a pleasure and a shock to be free of day-to-day responsibility for others. Yesterday, I mentioned a Tracey Eminquote about parenting. Here it is in full:
I would have been either 100% mother or 100% artist. I’m not flaky and I don’t compromise. Having children and being a mother… It would be a compromise to be an artist at the same time. I know some women can. But that’s not the kind of artist I aspire to be. There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men. It’s hard for women. It’s really difficult, they are emotionally torn. It’s hard enough for me with my cat.
When I first started painting full time, another woman artist told me much the same thing. The evidence supported her statement. Most artists (of either gender) in our circle were childless. Those with children also had wives who supported both their family and their art careers.
Mutter mit Jungen, 1933, Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz is an exception to rule that says mothers can’t make good artists.
That realization came close to derailing me. I was struggling to make enough time for my kids and art, but the historical reality seemed to be that women with children would always be second-rate painters.
I’m glad I didn’t learn that before the kids were irrevocable. They’re certainly the best work I’ve ever done.
Now that I’m beyond child-care, I think it’s a case where history is not necessarily destiny. Gender roles have changed tremendously in the last century. It is possible for a woman to combine competent child-rearing and any career, provided she has an exceptional husband, good time-management skills, and an iron will.
But the question my reader asked is an important one. There are many easier ways to live. Why do we do what we do?

Gender and creativity

Couple, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I was reading a short essay by Maria Popova on the premise that psychological androgyny is a trait of highly creative individuals. What fascinated me were the quotes she chose from her source, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  
… When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers…

Waiting, 24X36, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Psychological androgyny [refers] to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities…
It was obvious that the women artists and scientists tended to be much more assertive, self-confident, and openly aggressive than women are generally brought up to be in our society. Perhaps the most noticeable evidence for the “femininity” of the men in the sample was their great preoccupation with their family and their sensitivity…
At my advanced age, I’ve had the opportunity to observe three generations of gender roles: my parents’, my own, and my kids’ generations. I have known a lot of people, and I don’t think that most of them operate within this caricature of behavior. The ones that do, inevitably seem miserable.
Masculinity, 16X20, oil on gessoboard, by Carol L. Douglas
Most successful artists I know live extremely conventional lives. That has nothing to do with conforming to or rebelling against culture, and everything to do with expediency. On the other hand, we’ve all met artistic poseurs who concentrating on outward social imagery rather than content (usually as rebels). They’re always failures.
If there’s a characteristic of the creative temperament, it’s that most creatives spend their time thinking about their work, rather than where they fit in their tribe.
Submission, 18X24, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

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Mind control; thought control

A very typical boy illustration of a “smoking gun,” albeit better executed than most.
From the sketchbook of one of my former students.

I’m particularly fond of teenagers and especially that creature-in-crisis, the teenage boy. I’m currently the proud owner of a 16-year-old model, and I’ve taught others in my studio. And of course you know that I’ve been assiduous in telling my students to draw, draw, draw—to draw in class, to draw on the bus, to draw on dates. I don’t care what they draw; I don’t care where they draw; I just want them to draw.

So imagine my shock and dismay when I read in Salonthat a 16-year-old high school student in Egg Harbor City, NJ, was arrested after doodling in his notebook. The boy drew what has been variously described as either weapons or a flamethrower hand (which is the second most-common trope among teen boy artists, after guns).
Another drawing, same kid.
Having clearly never before seen a teenage boy, a staffer called the local cops, who—instead of rolling their eyes—searched both the school and the kid’s home with sniffer dogs. There they found chemicals which when combined could create an explosion, and pieces of electronics which when rebuilt could have been used to make detonators.
Boys of that age live in a
comic-book universe.
(I am glad they didn’t stop by my house, since they would have found electronic parts and chemicals strewn all over the kitchen, this being our week to refinish the kitchen cabinets and repair the light fixtures.)
This would all be the makings of a ridiculous story, except that the boy was sent to juvenile detention while the so-called crime was investigated.
(Read more here, here, here, and here.)

I’m not much of a believer in gender differences, but having taught a lot of teenagers to draw and paint, I know there are distinct differences in what they draw when they’re not being ordered around by the likes of me. Teen girls draw archetypal faces and bodies (often in Regency clothes). Teen boys draw weapons and fight scenes. This is universal, and I’m shocked that anyone working with kids doesn’t know this.
Last year I had a sweet kid in my studio, SH, who has graciously allowed me to share some of the gun doodles from his sketchbook. SH is every mother’s dream kid—handsome, kind to others, involved in extracurricular activities, a competitive swimmer, camp counselor, and having excellent manners. But when he was bored, he drew guns—just like every other boy I’ve ever known.
This is a typical girl drawing of the same age, again better executed than most.
By my daughter.
Drawing is a form of thinking as well as communicating, and in the hands of most people is primarily therapeutic and cathartic, rather than descriptive. A kid who draws a flamethrower is dealing with the stress of sexuality in a time-honored manner. A kid who draws a monster clawing off Mrs. Addlepate’s face has in fact found an excellent way of dealing with the stress of Mrs. Addlepate’s inanities. On the other hand, the kid who is prohibited from expressing his frustration, his zeal, his intelligence, his adolescent hormones and his pain is a kid who’s more likely to quite literally “go ballistic.