WHY THE HELL NOT? — A deep rebuttal.
This article is a deep rebuttal to the New York Times article “Can a Woman Who is an Artist ever Just Be An Artist?”
Last year, November 7 2019 actually, novelist Rachel Cusk wrote a long, complex feature article, published in the New York Times titled “Can a Woman Who is an Artist ever Just Be An Artist?”
I encourage you to read it yourself, but say this up front: what Cusk suggests is straight BS. Ladies, don’t listen, she’s wrong.
The topics she raises, however, are deeply important to aspiring Artists, so I want to explore the issues. While picking apart Cusk’s ideas.
Cusk is a clever, manipulative writer with an agenda, and though her Times’ feature is provocative, I’m surprised the Times ran the piece because a few weeks prior an article in Artnet News pretty much refuted Cusk’s arguments before they were published. The article, “Female Artists Represent Just 2 Percent of the Market. Here’s Why — and How That Can Change”, by Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns on September 19, 2019 basically shows Cusk’s rhetoric and hyperbole to be misleading feminist propaganda. You should read the Artnet News article too.
The Times piece is very long (near 8000 words) and difficult to parse because of the manipulative nature of the prose (rhetoric) and the multiple themes Cusk’s pursues. The writing is simultaneously some sort of bio-apology / critic’s love letter to long established artist Celia Paul (whom Cusk interviewed twice in person), a carefully worded PC-feminist argument, and an examination of existentialist issues that creative people are forced to deal with when they want to make a living from their art.
But Cusk argues at the expense of all artists who identify as female, and that’s wrong.
So let’s look at the issues raised and try to find some clarity.
In summary, Cusk is writing a cautionary tale: ‘Beware young girls, being a creative woman is a sexually emasculating trap!’ Her example is Celia Paul, (now in her 70's), extremely gifted but always shy, retiring and introverted. An artist who never received the accolades, critical praise and big money that, at least on the surface, she (probably, maybe) deserves.
Paul’s bio shows she was sexually as well as professionally exploited by the great figurative painter Lucien Freud (he was a sexual predator and extreme narcissist). Cusk contrasts Paul with a much younger painter, the successful, extroverted, more emotionally independent and ‘tomboyish’ Cecily Brown.
Without saying so directly, Cusk implies that Paul’s (probably) under developed sexuality and general introversion is more feminine than Brown’s more self confident ‘boyish’ sexual identity, and then suggests that all creative women are trapped by their sexuality, arguing that either a female artist makes herself less feminine (so as to succeed like the more ‘butchy’ Cecily Brown) or keeps her femininity (like Celia Paul) but forgoes money and fame.
Ladies, don’t believe it. This is near pure BS. There is no female artists’ sexuality trap. That’s not what is happening.
First, to make her argument Cusk confuses sexuality with gender, and we know they are not the same. Gender is a label, sexuality is a behavior. Terrible mistake to confuse the two. One can exert some influence on the public perception of one’s gender; much more difficult to change the genetics that is the basis of one’s sexual behaviour.
This confusion might support her feminist arguments, but she’s wrong. Collectors and critics when buying your art and evaluating it do not care about how you feel and what you do for sex, they discriminate on your perceived gender identity for what they believe are profitable business reasons. Which Halperin and Burns make absolutely clear in their research and Artnet News article.
So to answer Cusk’s question, “Can a woman who is an artist ever just be an artist?” , the answer is YES!
And why not? I don’t care if the CGI in a movie I watched, the flower print my partner purchased on-line, the graphic novel I was given or the dog’s portrait we commissioned came from someone with a vagina (or who identifies as a woman). I doubt you would either. Art has been created, commerce has happened.
We know there are thousands and thousands of ‘women’ all over the world who are creatives of various types and media and skills, producing, making a living, and their vaginas (and their relations to them) have little to nothing to do with their remuneration, (unless that is the subject of the work).
But Cusk avoids this reality and suggests that extreme discrimination based on sexuality happens at all levels of creative work, in order to generate sympathy for Celia Paul.
Don’t believe it. Again, as Halperin and Burns make clear, this type of extreme discrimination is a GENDER (labeling) issue AND happens almost exclusively at the elite mainstream level of visual art, (where Celia Paul and Cecily Brown live and work).
With Celia Paul, she grew up in era of the traditional, dominant and now outdated heteronormative female social roles of mother, family support person and second class citizen, social rolls that always conflicted with a professional career and life.
Harsh as it is for me to say, if Paul remained ‘trapped’ or ‘victimized’ by her past, unlearning that — breaking free, evolving, therapy — is her responsibility. (As personal growth is also yours and mine too.) So Cusk avoids defining what a ‘woman artist’ is, and confuses gender with sexuality to support feminist values, because a good feminist does not assign responsibility to a sister who has been victimized.
Thus Cusk writes: “But of any woman creator an explanation is required of whether, or how, she dispensed with her femininity and its limitations, with her female biological destiny; of where — so to speak — she buried the body.”
This blanket statement is so exaggerated it is ridiculous. And damaging.
Ignoring the unsupported hyperbole, the message is that all ‘woman creators’ must become a-sexual or worse, masculine in sexuality, in order to avoid career damaging discrimination. Uh…NO. Incorrect.
The root of discrimination against “woman creators” is not their sexuality, it is the public perception of their gender, their IMAGE. Fortunately you can change how you appear to others gender-wise, and all that “explanation is required” nonsense can be ignored.
In case you are worried, think logically about Cusk’s claim: “any woman creator”? Really? All female-appearing creatives, in every culture, every employment, every commission, every gallery, every internet site, doing any work of any creative kind all over the world? What fact supports this assertion? Cusk does not say.
Who is requiring “an explanation”? Society in general? Art critics? The Collectors who actually buy paintings, the buyers who commission commercial art, ebay buyers? YouTube viewers? The people who visit art fairs? Museum boards? Every person in the world? Why does Cusk feel this is true? She does not explain.
What exactly are the ‘limitations of femininity’? She does not list. And does ‘biological destiny’ mean giving birth, or some other aspect of ‘female destiny’, such as falling in love or wanting penetration?
If one follows the logic, what happens then AFTER a woman has fulfilled her ‘female biological destiny’? Does this mean that artist-women who have given birth, (presumably the ultimate destiny), are now free to move ahead male-style with their art, undiscriminated? Cusk does not address this either because it is not the case, unfortunately. (Paul had a son with Freud but apparently that never freed her in collectors’ estimation from ‘female biological destiny’.)
So forget about her ridiculous statement, it is an example of bigotry from several generations ago.
So, clearly, Brown and Paul are part of the ultra talented, ultra ambitious Mainstream visual art world. Their goal is to broadly impact culture, sell art through mainstream galleries exclusively, earn enormous sums of money while garnering critical praise, achieving celebrity status and even hagiographic attention, with works collected by major institutions while still alive. For Cusk this is ‘a Woman who is an Artist’ and this is the Art she makes, and no other.
Which, in our search for clarity, allows me to introduce Hard Truth number one:
All the other Artists out there who gender identify as female and create and make your living outside this ultra-elite art world…You Suck! Cusk is not talking about you, you aren’t important, so don’t be manipulated by her rhetoric.
Cusk glosses over Celia Paul’s elite status because she wants you to feel sorry for her. Don’t be. Celia Paul is willingly playing on the Big Stage where the rules are different and the competition vicious.
Cusk does state about the elite art world: “In the history of visual art, her appearance is the rarest of exceptions to the male rule.”
Yes, this is very true. But how many ‘elite artists-who-identify-as-women’ are we talking about? Cusk does not make this clear but the truth is vitally important to understanding why more women artists don’t make top dollars.
Hard Truth number two: Women in the elite art world are a tiny, tiny minority and all face systemic gender discrimination.
(So Celia Paul’s experience as one of the Elite is not even remotely unusual as far as recognition and remuneration are concerned. Sadly.)
We are talking about a very small group. Of all the tens of thousands of elite level, cutting edge art-making people in the world, maybe 1% make up the Mainstream, whose work is collected for large sums, reviewed by critics and purchased or supported by famous museums. And of this 1%, only 2% are consistently women.
Although this disproportion is grossly wrong, the truth is that Cusk is writing about only a handful, maybe two hundred ‘Elite Artists who are identified as Women’ world-wide out of a population of seven thousand million people.
The serious point is that as an Elite Woman Artist (or even a realistic aspirant) you are part of a very small, very visible minority in a very competitive profession. And it is extremely difficult to not be personally judged when you are part of such a small but visible and important group.
SO, the answer to Cusk’s question asked of Celia Paul is an absolute “NO”! You simply cannot be on the Big Stage and ‘just be an artist’. If you want to work incognito and ‘just be an artist’, sign your work with a gender neutral name and sell on ebay. But this clearly is not what Cusk thinks Paul should do.
If you don’t want to be personally judged, don’t want your perceived gender associated with your performance and output as an artist, don’t want to experience and deal with discrimination, then pursue other creative options.
What Cusk is really asking, I believe, is “Why is there no gender neutral judging of artwork?” The truth is that there IS gender neutral judging of artwork. But Cusk does not address how this happens because it deflates her argument that the elite art world is a sexual-trap-duality. (Either a woman becomes or behaves more masculine to sell more art for more money (thus degrading her art), or suffers a loss of recognition and reward to keep her femininity and the femininity in her work.)
The reality is that regardless of gender the Elite Artist is personally judged. And for good reason.
Hard Truth number three:
The elite world of Mainstream Art is not a meritocracy. It is a performance.
Cusk laments that it should be a meritocracy, so that equally talented and productive Elite Women Artists (like Celia Paul, for example) can get a bigger share of the Pie. Unfortunately the Artist’s success, both critical and financial, AT THIS LEVEL, is not because of the quality of the work. “Quality” is only the starting point.
The history of the creative world is littered with innovative, creative people who did not succeed nearly as well as those who adopted (exploited?) their innovations. Celia Paul is one of them.
Other examples: the guitarist Garry Moore broke ground in guitar playing more than anyone else in his lifetime. His sound influenced guitar based bands for decades — his sound, his licks and hooks and runs were copied relentlessly — but few of the general public know who he was. Picasso was famous for saying “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Picasso was ‘influenced’ by — stole — African art motifs and made a massive fortune, and a generation later, Jean-Michel Basquiat stole from Picasso. (Although Picasso, our poster boy for the 1% of the 1% did pretty well too…).
Celia Paul influenced Lucien Freud and others, but Freud did so much more to much greater success. Why? Partly because he was a man and benefited from a discriminatory system. But under Freud are easily a thousand other talented figurative painters who did not benefit in the same way from ‘the system’. So what made Freud different? The man was a full blown narcissist with a massive talent and workaholic drive, and knew it. He didn’t care who he screwed (literally) or who raised his many children and what people thought of him and his work as long as it succeeded. He appeared not to care. This is a personality trait, not a gender trait.
And I suggest that the ability to do all the other parts of being a modern-day professional artist — the branding, the self promotion, the marketing, the performance — isn’t rooted in gender but in the DNA of personality.
It is a scary truth: the number one route to Elite Art success is how much you (or your agents promoting you and your work) are able to impress the “Gate Keepers” with your performance, not (just) how good your work is.
Which brings up another modern-day issue — self marketing, which Cusk clearly shows Celia Paul is not good at.
This is Hard Truth number four:
Not only are your creations a commodity, but you, the Elite Artist, are also a commodity.
This has always been the case, and today just about every Artist understands what selling your work requires.
But what Cusk basically asks ignores our modern reality. (How can an Elite Woman Artist succeed at the same level as comparable male Artists if they do not want to be ‘commoditized’?)
This is like saying, “I desperately want to win at the swim meet but don’t want to put on a bathing suit and get wet.”
Even so, the marketing of the Artist, the creation of the Story, the public image, interviews, press releases and advertising, the high profile teaching positions, the
public art, the grand-standing, the public charity work, all this at the elite level has traditionally been the purview of the Mainstream Gallery.
As needed the Gallery represents the Artist, the Gallery finds the Artist’s people — their market — the Gallery protects the Artist, the Gallery creates the mystique and the demand. The Gallery sells, leaving the Artist to create.
In short, blame the ‘gallery system’ for failing to successfully market identified-as-women Elite Artists, and not their gender.
What if the Elite Woman Artist has already experienced being depersonalized and their value lessened by being objectified? (As Cusk illustrates.) Why can’t shy and retiring Artists get all the rewards too, without the personal scrutiny? Why can’t Elite Women Artists get the goods without their gender being involved?
Well, they can. If the Gallery does not do it for them, they can take on the responsibility or use a different strategy.
Is this more difficult for Identified-as-women Elite Artists? Yes, it is.
Unfortunately the answer is that all Elite Artists face the same issues but Elite Women Artists also face extreme gender bias amongst the biggest buyers, and so as a group are not as broadly promoted. It’s business.
So when you (finally) reach the Big Stage there is huge curiosity, huge demand, to understand ‘You the Artist’, to have your life summarized into an easily understood Story (the ‘elevator pitch’, often mythologized), your work and behavior framed as an on-going narrative, with your production a closely monitored and evaluated performance. Either the Gallery does this with you, or you hire a manager to do it, or you do it yourself.
This is unavoidable today simply because there is so much at stake and so much uncertainty.
The Collectors who buy the art, the Curators who judge it for museum attention or purchase, and the art Critics who tell everyone why your work is important ACTUALLY HAVE NO IDEA if what feels important and valuable today will be so, or more so, in the future.
Of course, the longer you can stay on the Stage, the more ‘cred you build, so the more confidence Collectors have in the potential value of your current work.
BUT THERE IS NO FORMULA.
Collectors want to profit from your creativity, that is why they buy art. Critics don’t want to be embarrassed. Curators don’t want to waste institutional money and space, it’s their career. That is where your Story and your Narrative and your Performance comes in. (oooh, SNaP ! am I right?). That is why you need to be marketed.
And even with extreme talent, hard work, steady production and exceptional art, your work may simply not be attractive in the current culture.
This is again not a sexuality issue, but a simple business issue. Yes, follow your heart, create what you want, but if you can’t find a market for it, or the market you want, explore. Change. Find a way to connect with your market. As a professional, that is your responsibility.
Jackson Pollock didn’t drop out of his mother holding a stir stick and a paint can opener. His early adult work was awful. But he kept evolving.
Only time will decide on the cultural impact and importance of any individual work. The fame of the artist will fade as the generations march on, and the initial monetary remuneration to the Artist will quickly become a footnote. So too will the collectors, gallerists and curators who chose you and your work.
But between now and then, Collectors are the ‘Gate Keepers’ of the Elite Art World, and those Gate Keepers are (in the majority) powerful, wealthy, biased men who need some reassurance they are making an investment, not a mistake.
Your Story and Performance assure the Collector that they are purchasing a piece of your genius (your originality). And as such, works of genius increase in value more than works of lesser… genius.
So like it or not, you are a commodity, attached to the “genius”, the originality of your work.
And this is Hard Truth number five:
Not only does your genius set you apart, the “Originality” in elite work is so crucial it has become the currency of Elite Art.
That is correct. ‘Originality’ is the currency of Elite Art.
Your art has to feel original. New. Possessing genius. Originality equals monetary value.
There is absolutely no arguing this. Nothing means anything anymore in cutting edge elite art except how honest, unique and original a work ‘feels’.
This is what makes Elite Art a performance. You get to the Big Stage and to stay there, you continue to produce at that edge, that place where your work is yours alone.
Cusk points out that Paul influenced others but has failed to get credit. As stated, promoting yourself is your Gallery’s responsibility, and then yours. At some point even the most introverted non-aggressive Artist must be responsible for their own career, or else you’ll end up like Albert Pinkham Ryder. (Look him up.)
(Modern day, the list is long of performers who were terrible business people and lost fortunes to corrupt managers or “the tax man” due to their lack of oversight of their own careers. Don’t let this be you!)
But ‘taping into your genius’ and using it is extremely difficult. Look at the personal cost and torturous path Van Gogh took to evolve into a mature artist. It took Picasso ten years to completely unlearn his formal training and become “Picasso”. And if it wasn’t hard then every four year old who loved to crayon would be Picasso by the end of their teens.
Do understand that everyone has native genius. Nobody else has your unique combination of DNA. From this emerges you and only you. And while others appear similarly, we are all different. This is from where our genius and thus originality emerge, and ultimately what the Collectors, the Gate Keepers, the purse string holders and institution managers want to feel when they look at your Art.
The point is that being commoditized is not personal and not gender based, it’s just marketing, a way of proving your work has value and is simply a cost of being on the Big Stage.
Half way through the piece Cusk breaks off her bio of Cecily Brown and writes,
“Can a woman artist — however virtuosic and talented, however disciplined — ever attain a fundamental freedom from the fact of her own womanhood? Must the politics of femininity invariably be accounted for, whether by determinedly ignoring them or by deliberately confronting them? The latter is a fateful choice that can shape an artist’s life and work; but does the former — the avoidance of oneself as a female subject — inevitably compromise the expressive act?”
Ah, so there’s the rub. This is really what the article is about.
Let us unpack it.
First, in defining what makes an elite artist Cusk leaves out THE KEY component: Originality.
She next raises an existential question but disguises it as a feminist issue.
Then erroneously defines the issue as a dichotomy where it is not.
And lastly frames a non-gender issue (being honest and truthful about yourself) as a ‘female only’ problem.
So, do not be discouraged by reading her.
As stated, ‘originality’ is the currency of elite art and cannot be avoided. Cusk has to leave out originality because if included it negates the remainder of her argument. Bringing up the currency of elite art then brings up the buyers and their prejudices, which she has directly avoided.
If your work is truly ‘original’ — has your genius in it, then getting less money for your work just because of your perceived gender is discrimination, plain and simple.
So how can you win? Won’t there always be someone newly graduated in the latest styles or methods, working faster, better, smarter than you? They’ll be more skilled, better trained, more privileged, luckier, more gifted than you, more culturally attuned. (Yeah, probably…)
The Artists’ salvation is knowing their work flows from a ruthlessly honest self-expression and relentless self-exploration.
As drumming great Neil Pert said, “I wasn’t the most talented but I was absolutely relentless.”
This be you: absolutely relentless.
Seeing and telling the Truth in art that others don’t want to or don’t dare to, or are afraid to. Having the courage to tell a Truth that others simply don’t see or didn’t know was there. And always, always telling the Truth about yourself. As you create, while being as honest as you can be, be fearlessly self-questioning, and endlessly exploring. Even when you paint flowers or sunsets or abstracts.
So know that you can create whatever you want. Just draw, like Robert Crumb or Käthe Kollwitz, or Lauri Lipton; paint children or toy cars or cocktail glasses or nudes. But do so fully aware and knowing and feeling, as you create, who you are, what you wish to achieve and why you do it.
From Steve Pressfield: “The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”
Excerpt From: Pressfield, Steven. “The War of Art.”
And after all the hard work, if no one likes your art when you show it, or no one purchases it when you offer it for sale, (or if you are told to price less than male contemporaries) and you are still experiencing discrimination in the ‘market place’ at least you’ll know it’s not your fault.
Difference is your responsibility, discrimination your burden.
But then Cusk asks something strange:
“Can a woman artist…ever attain a fundamental freedom from the fact of her own womanhood?”
WHAT? This is an existential question disguised as a feminist issue.
This is not a feminist, woman only issue. The question is: can anyone ever attain freedom from their own genetics?
Again: Attaining freedom from your genetic reality has absolutely nothing to do specifically with being an artist, elite or not, and, sorry, this is also not a feminist issue. It is a person issue.
And the answer is YES.
In assuming that it is impossible for a person’s consciousness to supersede their physical, ‘corporeal’ experience and that others must grant this ‘freedom’ Cusk avoids assigning responsibility and implies other’s are to blame.
This is just wrong.
This assumption negates virtually the entirety of Eastern religion and denies the possibility of experiencing a higher consciousness. It negates an independent soul, and thus the freedom to choose, to control and modify, one’s awareness. It even denies the proven methods of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, to paraphrase, Our bodies are not us, but vessels we inhabit as we experience this life. Your body is the garage where you park your soul.
And this includes one’s gender and ‘womanhood’.
For clarity: that while we are of our bodies, in our bodies, inexorably linked to and living in these physical containers and cannot deny the affect on us because we experience life and reality through them, we still have the conscious freedom to know we are not our bodies. We are something else, a ‘soul’, a consciousness, an awareness that occupies our corporeal shells.
SO, if a woman is to ‘ever attain a fundamental freedom from the fact of her own womanhood’ it has nothing to do with being an artist, with perceived biases in the workplace, feminist politics or blatant discrimination.
Such freedom is achieved personally and only personally; a personal existential event, an enlightenment.
People can be supportive, but no one can do this for you. And as such, is your journey, your ‘responsibility’. You will have left the Tribe behind, which includes you community, your organized religion, and even feminist politics. When you step away, rise above, ‘self realize’, ‘self actualize’, these concerns will simply not apply.
SO, the questions Cusk poses at the core of her article (to confuse the issues and manipulate the reader) have answers that are not what she wants you to know.
The mountain envies the valley, the valley wants to be the moving stream, the stream longs to be the coast, the coast yearns to be the ocean; the ocean doesn’t care.
This is Hard Truth number six:
The Leopard cannot change its spots.
No matter how enlightened you become, you were born into a genetic package, and while you can definitely evolve within it and to a degree modify it, you can’t get a different one. (At least not yet…).
No matter who you are, you are forced in this existence to live and deal with a body. Thus, your job as a creative person is to make something new for the world, using what life gives you, and this includes the body you are in, its deficiencies, its strengths and the brain you are thinking with.
Even enlightened people grow old in the genetic package they were born into.
So bickering and blaming over your genetics is a waste of energy. And suggesting that one’s genetics is something one should physically escape from (“attain a fundamental freedom from the fact”) creates ridiculous scenarios.
Should Elite Woman Artists become cyborgs? Perhaps the Artist who is in a woman’s body cannot make world class Art until she’s gone through menopause?
(Collector: “Well, her work is finally cutting edge. She must have run out of eggs.”)
And do only publicly identified heteronormative Elite Women Artists need this freedom, where all else get a ‘queer-ish’ free pass on the fact of their other-gender-ness?
[Maybe! Gallerist to Collector: “We’re not sure if there’s a penis in there or a vagina, but they put out the work!” Collector: “Impressive. I’m buying!”]
And does this mean Elite Women Artists who’ve had complete hysterectomies have automatically escaped their fundamentality into another level of elite success on par with the Elite Men?
[Critic: “Well, she doesn’t have a uterus anymore, so she must be more creative! Look at those colour choices, couldn’t have done those with ovaries!”]
Horrible. Absolutely horrible.
Cusk then erroneously defines the issue as a dichotomy where it is not that simple.
But rather than admit that Artists who-are-perceived-as-women are discriminated against, which would then raise questions of responsibility and change, Cusk frames the problem as a socio-political dichotomy:
Must the politics of femininity invariably be accounted for, whether by determinedly ignoring them or by deliberately confronting them?
Cusk implies that this dichotomy prevents a woman from just being an artist, and thus caught in this trap, is compromised.
This is nonsense. First, this is a case of the victim self blaming. Discrimination is not the fault of the victim but the discriminator. And secondly, the politics of femininity do not have to be accounted for.
When you leave The Tribe (any social or cultural group) you abandon its politics. You aren’t leaving your vagina, you’re leaving the Tribe. And people will know this by how you think and what you say, how you behave and the choices you make and don’t make. “Leaving the Tribe” is also not gender based. You don’t have to become more masculine to escape. You just have to have the courage to be alone.
Lastly, there are many more options than the gender dichotomy Cusk proposes.
When Elite Artists want to remove gender from the evaluation of their person and work they, if required, sacrifice the personal critical acclaim and accompanying celebrity so that the work itself is forced to stand on its own.
Examples: What gender is Banksy? Who knows for sure? Does anyone care? No. What gender was General Idea? (General Idea was a critically and financially successful collective). So, not an issue. What gender was Christo, (who wrapped buildings and bridges in fabric)? Christo was a couple, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, so both, neither? No one cared. What gender are Jeff Koons’ or Damien Hirst’s or Weiwei’s factory workshops? Does not apply. (seems about half and half).
But Cusk does not really want gender anonymity for Elite Women Artists she wants equality without scrutiny. She wants attention without commodification. She wants critical exposure and fame with gender removed from the equation, (which is fair).
Sorry, but at the Elite level, not going to happen. Not the fault of the artist, but the money culture. Or the male-centric patriarchal culture.
And while there is much more personal scrutiny in the world of Elite Art, selling your artistic creations on the Big Stage is not much different than any other big business deal, (except with fewer rules and regulations).
Imagine meeting with super wealthy business men (who presumably are experts in making money, investing and spotting fraud and bad deals) and asking them to invest in your business. They will want to know what justifies the cost of their investment, and they will want to run a personal check and a credit check on you, to make sure you aren’t a con artist. AND REMEMBER, they actually have no ability to predict if your business can make them money!
So, if you really impress them with your ‘pitch’, and all the numbers line up and they also have a good gut feeling about investing in your business, they might buy in.
All Elite Artists face the same scrutiny.
Cusk essentially acknowledges this but mistakenly frames it as a gender ‘trap’ (male=sales, so how does a woman successfully hide her femaleness without compromising her credibility?) asking, “does…the avoidance of oneself as a female subject — inevitably compromise the expressive act?”
Well, YES. The ‘avoidance of oneself’ in Elite Art means you are removing some or all of your Originality, your genius, and thus are becoming a craftsperson, a creative tradesperson.
Sure, do this, but only if this ‘avoidance’ is ironically, self-referentially part of your creativity. See Andy Warhol and pop art.
The truth is that deliberately being less than completely Original isn’t a gender issue, it is an existential issue.
Think of our personalities as holograms, one part contains all the other parts. We cannot isolate one part of our personality and pretend it does not exist and then expect such suppression or denial or even ignorance to not affect our creativity and art.
Ultimately the Elite Artist IS the subject, or perhaps subtext, regardless of what is created, because that is where the Originality, the Genius, comes from. Thus what you leave out is part of the statement you are making. You are a commodity, remember?
Here is a great example: Mark Rothko’s later colour field paintings appear to be just that. Large roughly filled-in layers of dark, deep, luminous colour. But Rothko wanted to create spiritual works. And they are. People still sit or stand in front of these large canvases and are brought to tears by what they feel. Later Rothko said that when creating these paintings he did indeed feel deeply, spiritually, religiously moved, and he wanted others to experience that too.
So the answer is YES !! You cannot avoid yourself as a female subject or a male subject or any part of what is Youwithout this reticence inevitably affecting your expressive acts.
Does this mean your Art is compromised? I say it is, but this is a judgement issue, created in the minds of the Artist and the Collector. If no one cares, or even notices, then no.
But if you or others feel that your work is compromised, then it is something you have to deal with. It is your responsibility as an artist. (Whether you do anything about it or not…)
If all you want is a career and money, there are many options. Many elite artists stop evolving or almost so and happily plagiarize themselves. Many build their brand and then flog it like a rented mule.
Some stop competing on the Big Stage, opting for steady sales in smaller, regional galleries and generate large incomes other ways: commissions, art fairs, grant programs, exclusive prints, teaching and private instruction. Even Rembrandt supported his family when sales slumped by opening an atelier!
To paraphrase Steve Pressfield on creativity: Your job as an Artist is to work every day as honestly as you can, and at the end of the day, know you’ve hit it with everything you’ve got.
And still, Elite Women Artists face extreme discrimination.
This is the last Hard Truth: in the Elite Art World discrimination is entrenched.
As Halperin and Burns wrote female artists represent just 2 percent of the elite market. But change is possible.
The less tolerant, the more discriminatory a society is against woman and specifically high achieving women, the more discrimination that culture’s female artists experience.
Being a Elite Artist is like being at the top of any of the other power structures in our culture. There are only a few places at the top, and very few are taken by women.
And in the Elite Art World, the Gate Keepers, those with the money, are mostly men and extremely biased.
Little will change until more women and more unbiased men purchase more art from female-identified artists. More women and unbiased men need to run public galleries so that the most culturally important or ‘beautiful’ work is promoted regardless of perceived gender.
This means more women artists showing in the smaller galleries, building credibility, with more galleries promoting the best art, regardless of the artist’s perceived gender. Then with more women showing, critics and academics need to write about this new elite or near to elite art, and hence publicly exposed, the Stories can be invented, the narrative’s formed, the genius exposed, careers started.
The more the Gate Keepers feel the mystique, the importance, the potential of Elite Women’s Art the more they will feel assured their purchases are good investments.
The men (or women) who refuse to buy women artists’ art at equitable prices need to lose (potential) profits on their poor choices…that is, Elite Women’s Art needs to continue to be more profitable on resale, to thus provide proof to the mystique.
And is there enough room for more women artists, or do male artists get the squeeze? Are you kidding? The Pie can grow bigger, much much bigger, as it has grown, astronomically, since WWII. There is so much ‘investible’ money in the world today it is almost beyond imagination. So get creating and get your art out there! Sales…it’s just business.
Sean, June 2020