Where have all the women gone?

I have often heard people ask why there have not been more great women artists throughout Western history. I took great curiosity in this question; it was my inspiration for taking a “women and the arts” course. Now that I am several weeks into the course I would like to propose a new, more accurate question: Why have more women not been considered great artists throughout Western history?

The history of art is a history of discrimination toward race, class status, gender and other issues. The lack of women’s representation in the arts is an important issue that must be addressed. The belief of male superiority in the arts goes back to Aristotle’s time. Aristotle, the well-known philosopher of the 4th century B.C., was once quoted, “The family consists of ruler and ruled; between male and female this relationship of superior and inferior is permanent.” This unethical way of thinking became accepted as a norm.

The truth is, despite prejudice, there have been numerous women artists throughout Western history. Women overcome incredible obstacles to create art, but they are usually ignored by critics and art historians, who claim art by women did not meet their criteria for quality. Auguste Renoir, a famous French artist of the 19th century, said, “I consider women writers, lawyers and politicians Ö as monsters and nothing but five-legged calves. The woman artist is merely ridiculous, but I am in favor of the female dancer and singer.”

Women’s representation lacks in museums, art books and most other art references. The International Painting and Sculpture Exhibition in New York consisted of 169 paintings, but only 13 were by women artists. H.W. Janson’s “The History of Art” is a widely acclaimed classic introduction to art in the Western world; it is used at universities and art schools as the primary book to study great art. The current edition includes 2,300 artists. Of those, a mere 19 are women.

I looked through numerous libraries’ art sections. In those, I found an abundance of books about white male artists. I even found more than a handful on solo artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh. But I struggled to find any books on female artists. After pulling out a few random art books, I realized the commonality between them. They all rarely mentioned female artists, and when they did I found brief paragraphs describing their husbands and how they inspired their wives. It was also uncommon to find a picture of the female artists’ artwork.

Why is there such a lack of women’s representation in the arts? This question has no simple answer; the problem has existed for centuries. The main reason is that white men are viewed as the only worthy critics. Their closed-mindedness has caused great gaps in art history. This is an important issue because it is what is shaping the future history of women. This problem is not one that will change quickly. It might take centuries to reach this well-deserved equality for women and the arts.

But you can make a change! Visit museums, write letters, express your opinion on this issue. Research and educate yourselves on it. We are shaping our future art history books, and we cannot ignore this discrimination toward women any longer.

Brandy Thompson is a University firstñyear. She welcomes comments at [email protected]