Art and Gender / by Jeannine Cook

When I first became an artist, (which was a fresh departure for me as I had started out in other directions), I was surprised to find how gender still mattered in the art world. I had expected that by the early eighties, the American art scene would have shed some of the bias that was disappearing in other spheres as the pioneering feminists shamed and/or educated the rest of society.

I soon discovered that the world of women's art organisations was well established and welcoming. The diversity and efficiency of opportunity offered to women artists from the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club (founded in 1876 and at http://www.clwac.org/), the National Association of Women Artists (founded in 1889 and at http://www.nawanet.org/), or the Women's Caucus for the Arts (http://www.nationalwca.org/) are really impressive. These are but three of the main groups that enable women artists to exhibit and interact as high calibre professionals. It is felicitous but somewhat ironic, I feel, that now various collections of women's art have been formed, with perhaps the most prominent being the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC (http://www.nmwa.org/).

The question about whether gender matters today for an artist still often remains unanswered, I suspect. The bias has perhaps become much more subtle in some instances, and is thus hard to quantify. I decided, personally, long ago never to consider the issue in what I have tried to do as an artist. However, I do recognise that certain subject matter and certain approaches are more likely to be considered a woman's purview (such as flower paintings....). And, in many ways, the diversity of approach should enrich the art world generally. Today, there are many very successful women artists in many disciplines, but they have certainly been helped along the way by the pioneering work of artists like Judy Chicago, Faith Reingold, Louise Nevelson and many others.

The other aspect of gender in art is whether an artist should be labelled... There is an exhibition, The Rise of Women Artists, opening at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, which apparently addresses this issue (www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/). I would very much like to have a magic carpet to convey me there to see what they say about it. For my part, I always tend to mistrust labels of any sort. Predictability is almost akin to being boring and that is always unfortunate, particularly in the art world.