Saturday, April 3, 2010

Art Blog: “Mad Men of ART”

Periodically, I go on art video watching jags. I like to think of them as a kind of feeding frenzy of art ideas. When I get hungry, I put in a DVD and end up watching two, three, or four in a row. This can go on for days. I have quite a collection of art vids. Yet, I tend to watch certain movies over and over again. This week, I have bombarded my eyes and mind with those relating primarily to modern art of the 20th century.

One video I watched was “Painters Painting”. To be honest, there isn’t much painting going on in this lengthy video. Sit down artist interviews are the running theme. This video was made in 1972. It concentrates on the history of the New York art scene, 1940-1970. I have seen snippets of some of the footage before which has been included in other videos. However, this film gives me the chance to see the interviews in their entirety.

As I watched this movie, I became increasingly uncomfortable. I started to squirm and feel anxious. About half way through the viewing, I realized it seemed so bizarre to hear all these MEN talk. Where are the women in this movie? There are twenty-one artists/dealers featured in this film. All of them are men and there is one female artist. Most of the scenes reminded me so much of the television show, “Mad Men”. Yes, things were really like that. The one woman artist is Helen Frankenthaler. During the brief interview with Frankenthaler who was dressed in a smart, tailored suit akin to a Barbie stewardess uniform, I anticipated someone stopping the interview so she could go get the film crew coffee!

For those who read this and want to balk, I will say I agree art shouldn’t be about gender. That isn’t a criterion. However, we all have differing points of view and ALL includes men and women. When Frankenthaler was asked about being a “female artist”, she said something like “well, it isn’t about being female, it is about being an artist”. That is all well and good, but I would have liked to see her jump up and scream at the videographer and ask “YEAH! Why am I the only woman artist in this movie?!!!!” She didn’t do that. She just sat there like a lady with her nylon clad legs crossed so elegantly. Too bad.

I wish we could rewrite art history. I would like to see this film again, but including the female painters of the time. With all the austere bravado of the dialogue in this film announcing “portraits of ourselves”, “the new American art”, “national art”, “the best artists”, “American Artists” making “high art”, I really don’t understand how they didn’t see they were excluding half of the artists of these generations. However, as I look at current art book and video selections, I continue to squirm. Yes, things are a bit different now, but have we come a “LONG” way baby?
I don’t think so.


Click pic to see movie trailer

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

In art school, 1965, the teacher -- a great teacher by the way -- asked rhetorically, "Why is it that so many of my best students are female and they leave here and just get married and that's it?"

He didn't know. We didn't know. We women told ourselves that "that will not be me." We didn't know what was ahead, even if we DIDN'T get married and kept going as artists.

Sheree Rensel said...

Anonymous, You got that right. However, I went to grad school in the late 70's and I was SO NAIVE back then, none of this even occurred to me. Seriously. My professors taught all about these "Mad Men". It seems like a non-issue to me back then. Like you said "that will not be me." I see things so differently now. Older and wiser, I guess.

Sheree Rensel said...

Anonymous, You got that right. However, I went to grad school in the late 70's and I was SO NAIVE back then, none of this even occurred to me. Seriously. My professors taught all about these "Mad Men". It seems like a non-issue to me back then. Like you said "that will not be me." I see things so differently now. Older and wiser, I guess.

namastenancy said...

I remember thinking the same thing when I was in art school in the 60's. I used to think that I couldn't be an artist because I didn't look like a female artist "should" - i.e. tall, slender, with flowing hair and elegant hands. I was then and am even more so now, short, stocky with small, chubby hands - the strong and muscular type. I'm sure that comes from my peasant ancestors who probably yoked women to the plow and only gave them time off when they were giving birth. In any case, once I got divorced, I avoided the marriage trap like the trap it was. It didn't save me from some of the issues facing women artists but I did manage to dodge some of the bullets.
As far as Helen F goes - she came from money, was the mistress of a famous NY art critic and was married to Robert Motherwell. Naturally she's not going to rock the boat. Why should she? She's done very well thankyouverymuch. She's living proof that all women are not sisters and that women can be women's worst enemies.

Sheree Rensel said...

Nancy,
Yes. I know why HELEN didn't speak up. I never liked her anyway. Also, I have never felt any issues with my appearance (looking like an artist). I know I did try to fit into a category. I couldn't be the "ethereal" type with long gauze skirts and sandals, so I went for the "lumberjill" look. I was always in overalls, plaid shirts, and combat boots. Maybe I was trying to look butch (?) which is kind of funny if you think about it. I am only 4'8" tall. How tough could I look? LOL

I think I have always been in some kind of denial. I remember once there was a lengthy story about me and my art in a local paper. At the time, I was associated with a gallery. I remember the dealer looking at the photo of me in the paper with my long blond hair and he said "Too cute". At the time, I thanked him. Now, I realize he meant something entirely different than my interpretation.
Oh well. Such is life.

Erika Allison said...

The problem in the 60's wasn't art - it was society in general. We women were raised to be wives and mothers, as it had been since the beginning of time, apparently. I think my generation of men are still, at least secretly, scoffing at the whole women's lib movement. What are the young men of today thinking? I'm guessing it takes a few generations to finally get to where it should be.

Sheree Rensel said...

Erika,
There lies my problem. I was never raised to be a wife or mother. In fact, my mother thought I should get busy with doing something to bring in cash because she never saw me as the wifey type. She considered me the smart, "ugly" one. I will give her that because she was right. Maybe this is why I was so confused for so many years. I really thought I could do anything I wanted.
I NEVER wished it, but now I wonder: What would have happened if I were born male? Just a thought.

Erika Allison said...

Sheree - if you'd been born male? Who knows? Who knows anything??? We just keep plugging away, don't we? I just figure I have no regrets. Can't afford regrets. All our experiences make us who we are. And, we're not too shabby!