Women in the wild

Women are the majority of plein air painters, but some are afraid to be outside working alone.
The Alaska Range, by Carol L. Douglas
Louise-Joséphine Sarazin de Belmont was a landscape painter who traveled around Italy painting ‘views’ at a time when nice women were expected to be chaperoned in public. She made a tidy income for herself in the process. She’s one of two female artists represented in the National Gallery’s True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which runs until May. 
The other is Rosa Bonheur, who is best known for her animal paintings (including The Horse Fair). Bonheur was a one-off, refusing to be pigeonholed by society. She dressed in men’s clothing and openly lived with women. She didn’t want to be male; instead, she felt that trousers and short hair gave her an advantage when handling large animals.
Clouds over Teslin Lake, the Yukon, by Carol L. Douglas
We have an idea that 19th-century society was extremely repressed, but Bonheur was its most famous woman painter. Among those who admired her work was Queen Victoria. Bonheur, like Sarazin de Belmont, was an astute businesswoman, able to earn enough by age 37 to buy herself the Chateau de By.
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot are the best-known 19th century painters today; why weren’t they as popular then? In part, they suffered from their restricted subject matter.
Western Ontario forest, by Carol L. Douglas
“Morisot isn’t going out with all of her paint tools, like everybody else, and setting up along the river and painting all day,” said curator Mary Morton in this thoughtful essay by Karen Chernick. “That’s absolutely because of the limitations of her gender and her class. She’s a nice upper middle-class French woman, and it’s just not seemly. In the end, her most accomplished pictures tend to be things she can do indoors.”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, after reading a plaintive letter from a woman afraid to paint alone outdoors. “Can you give me tips for safety?” she asked.
Cobequid Bay Farm, Hants County, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas
Since the plein air painting scene is predominantly female, many women have made the adjustment to working alone. I’ve camped and painted alone through the Atlantic states and for 10,000 miles through Alaska and Canada with my daughter. I’ve been unnerved by tourists acting idiotically, but I’ve never been bothered by human predators.
But perhaps I’m not harassed because I’m so old, this blogger suggests. I don’t think so; I’ve been doing it for a long time. And I’m not the only woman interested in painting on the road. Deborah Frey McAllister created the International Sisterhood of the Traveling Paints on Facebook. Debby calls herself a ‘free range artist.’
Hermit’s Peak, El Porviner, NM, by Carol L. Douglas
It’s possible to run into trouble anywhere. In my experience, there are stranger people in town parks than in national forests. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was being warned away from drug deals. But be alert and aware of your surroundings. 
The subject is something I’ll address when I speak to the Knox County Art Society on tips for the traveling painter. That’s Tuesday, March 10, at 7 PM in the Marianne W. Smith Gallery at the Lord Camden Inn, 24 Main Street, Camden. The talk is open to the public; the suggested donation is $5.

Young dealers, more women

Is the gender gap in the art world closing? Not so you’d notice, but here’s a nugget of good news.

Couple, Carol L. Douglas

I’ve written many times about gender issues in the art world.* I grew up at a time when there were no great women artist models. Historical figures like Artemisia Gentileschi had been expunged from the record. Abstract-Expressionism, which reigned supreme in the post-war era, was almost wholly a bad-boy phenomenon. I’m still waiting to see the inequality addressed. I’ll probably die waiting.

If you can stand the dissing of ‘white straight males,’ a recent essay in Artsy has a small bit of good news buried in it: young galleries are more likely to be run by women, and women-run galleries are slightly more likely to show work by women artists.
The Joker, Carol L. Douglas
Their sample is narrow: the 200 or so galleries that showed at Art Baselin Miami Beach. Their graphing makes one wonder if they passed the sixth grade, although it looks very pretty. 
Among galleries under ten years old represented at Miami, almost half were run by women. Younger galleries and women gallerists are slightly better at selling work than their male counterparts. Younger male-run galleries had 32% female artists, compared with just 23% at galleries more than 20 years old. The younger female-run galleries had 41% female artists; at the older female-run galleries, the share of female artists was 28%.
Moreover, there was better representation for women in North American galleries (36% to 64%) than in supposedly-enlightened Europe (30%-70%), and there were proportionally more American women dealers than European women dealers.
The Laborer Resting, Carol L. Douglas
But even there, the differences are minor; male dealers at the high-end of the market outnumber women dealers 3 to 1. At the top end of the market, the money is overwhelmingly male. “When you get to the $10 million, $20 million levels, that’s where the disparity comes…when that amount of money is at stake, politics go out the window,” said London dealer Pilar Corrias.
Another industry that’s famous for mouthing feminist platitudes but practicing gender bias is Hollywood. According to the Los Angeles Times, only 1.9% of directors of the top-grossing 100 films of 2013 and 2014 were women. “Of 25 Paramount Pictures films that have been announced through 2018, not a single one has a women director attached, in a tally first noted by The Wrap. The same is true of the 22 Twentieth Century Fox films that have been announced…”
Saran Wrap Cynic, by Carol L. Douglas
And then there’s Congress, where only 19% of lawmakers are female, a percentage that didn’t change much in the last election.
The biggest news story of 2017 has been #metoo. One thing it ought to tell us is that where there’s huge gender disparity, there’s also sex abuse. Where there’s endless sexualization of women’s images, there’s also abuse, and the art world for the last two hundred years has been littered with insipid, pulchritudinous images of women.
The 19th and 20th century art scenes were famous for abusive, egotistical male ‘geniuses.’ As Germaine Greer said about the Pre-Raphaelites, “If they hadn’t had sex with their models, they wanted you to think they had.”

* Here, here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere as well.

Speaking up

Being small has its disadvantages.

Being small has its disadvantages.
Yesterday I wrote about a survey confirming the gender gap in the art world. (Women in the arts earn 68¢ for every dollar earned by men.)  That sparked a lively conversation, which I’m sharing with you more or less verbatim:
“It’s interesting when there’s a group of painters set up and you notice passersby only going to engage the male painters, or they ask if he’s teaching a workshop.”
“I was asked to join a co-op. When I showed up, they were surprised; they thought I was a man. Last week Steve was helping me bring my work in and someone asked if I was helping him.”
“I was set up during International Paint-Out Day at Otter Cliffs about six feet from a man who was outfitted in his painter’s vest, high leather boots with his pants tucked in, and a big brimmed safari hat. I saw many vacationers strolling around the rocks, but most of them would just go and look at the guys’ easels. One couple just kind of walked around until they saw where we were standing and walked all the way from the shoreline up to his easel, and bought the painting. It was his first time out, and he was new at painting, but he looked the part and that’s all it took.”
I've taken to carrying a riding crop so that passers-by will know I'm the teacher. Just kidding.

I’ve taken to carrying a riding crop so that passers-by will know I’m the teacher. Just kidding.
“That’s one of the reasons why I sign my paintings with only my last name. It doesn’t indicate my gender.”
“An artist friend painted a very large oil. She walked into the gallery as the sale of said painting was going on. The man buying it was introduced to her, and exclaimed, ‘A little girl like you painted this?’ And walked out of the gallery.”
“I won the top prize at a plein air event. My work sold adequately; about the same as it would have in a gallery. A few paintings later, the auctioneer was trying to gin up business, and said, ‘c’mon guys, So-and-So is a professionalartist.’”
“Back when I used to do a pretty full schedule of summer shows, I cannot tell you how often people assumed ‘JC’ was my husband. He’s tall; I’m small—bigger presence. It used to irk me that once he redirected them to me, they were always so surprised.”
“On too many occasions I’ve had to defend my right to use my initials as my business name and signature, always to male artists. At least one told me flat out that if I was truly proud of who I was and my work, I wouldn’t have to hide behind my initials.”
One of the best posses I ever rode with was this group of women at Adirondack Plein Air. From left, Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz and Tarryl Gabel.

One of the best posses I ever rode with was this group of women at Adirondack Plein Air. From left, Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz and Tarryl Gabel.
I’m going to add one more story of my own, about a gallerist who refused to even talk to a friend about representation, averring that “women can’t paint.”
Yesterday, Sue Baines, owner of The Kelpie Gallery, commented, “I think across the board, we need to be retrained, from female artists who apologetically price their work for less, to the art buyer/collector who undervalues a female artist’s work.”
How do we do that?