#5WomenArtists: seeking an inclusive arts ecosystem
Fifty years ago, in 1971, American art historian Linda Nochlin wrote her seminal essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" In this essay, Nochlin explored the institutional impediments that she felt prevented women from achieving success in the fine arts. In her mind, at the heart of the issue is what former British Member of Parliament John Stuart Mill suggested: that "we tend to accept whatever is as natural".
In 1971, Nochlin felt that the male, Western and White view was considered “the natural” or rather, “the norm”. And in Nochlin’s mind, this perception of “the norm” drove “institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are part of them”.
And 50 years later, we should consider: how much has actually changed? Is the art world any more inclusive?
March was Women’s History Month, the perfect time to have reached into our back pocket and pull out the note cards of books, Ted Talks and articles that we wanted to delve into to give women, their careers, their struggles and their personal triumphs the spotlight. And in my world, that means reassessing women’s role in art history. And the irony isn’t lost on me that 50 years ago this idea was tackled by Nochlin, and that it continues to be a pertinent conversation today.
By way of example, as recently as 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, launched a social-media campaign that challenged the public to face the lack of equality in the art world head-on.
Using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, the campaign asked the public to name at minimum five female artists, calling attention to many not being able to name any. This hashtag challenge is ongoing and it continues to highlight that women remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries and auction houses.
Many will know that there have been exceptionally talented female artists throughout history, yet their stories have not been included as part of the conversation around “Great Artists”. The tongue-in-cheek essay title by Nochlin, “Why have there been no great women artists?” was her way of saying: there have been great women artists; they just haven’t been recognised.
And this “art history” problem has huge implications today. While the representation of female artists in the United States by primary market galleries is now about 40 per cent, their sales still account for only 2 per cent of the total market. Female artists are still not favoured in the art market, this being a huge disservice to their talent and to the diversity of the market as a whole.
It is critical that we recognise the gap that still exists in our art world and consider how we support and invest in female artists, not just now but throughout the year; not just globally but locally. There are many local female artists who are pushing technique and diverse agendas that allow for a more inclusive artistic space.
Naming at minimum five female artists is just the start to a more inclusive arts ecosystem — there is still much work to be done to ensure our creative economy is accessible to all. But we need to start somewhere.
So I leave you with the challenge: start your list now.
• Risa Hunter, a passionate arts professional with a particular interest in engaging diverse audiences in Western Atlantic visual culture, is the Executive Director of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art