Dale Carnegie, the self-help icon said: “Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” That includes women’s names. And we certainly can’t remember Jack or Jill if those names are hidden from view.
Virginia Woolf also famously said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Combining Woolf and Carnegie’s axioms, how do we recognize and honor the artistic contributions of the nameless, anonymous, invisible people of history? They were frequently women and/or the disenfranchised, and we must re-discover them and put their art on display!
In that spirit, I’m very excited that Pasadena Museum of History is mounting a special exhibition, called “Something Revealed: California Women Artists Emerge, 1860-1960.” The event starts on Saturday, Sept. 29, and will run through the end of March, which is Women’s History Month.
I’m proud to say I’ve had my own version of this show’s concept on the walls of my home for many years. Look at the signatures on the various pieces I have, and you will see Frida Kahlo (sadly, not originals), Georgia Bragg and Jennie Tomao among dozens of anonymous artists.
I have a one-woman band going, attempting to balance a terribly skewed world where the creative contributions of white males often outweigh everything else creative, except for childbirth.
Men even have their signatures prominently displayed on the most miraculous of women’s “artwork,” our offspring. Frequently, “modern” women who hyphenate their last name or keep their family name defer to the man’s last name when it comes to their kids. The typical rationale is that using the father’s name is more convenient, making life easier for schedulers, appointments, registrations, and form-fillers. You wouldn’t want to be a “bother” to anyone, would you? If nothing else, we’ve all been well-socialized as women to not be a “bother” to anyone, at any time.
I’m suggesting that we bother more people all the time. Indeed, I’ll be proud to have on my tombstone, “Here Lies Ellen Snortland: She BOTHERED SO MANY PEOPLE — and had lots of women artists represented in her home, anonymous and otherwise.” (That’s a big tombstone!)
Unless men create brush strokes using their penis, there’s nothing biological that would make men inherently better at the fine arts. Just sayin’. Certainly the most dainty among us can lift a paint brush.
Since 1985, The Guerilla Girls (GG) have addressed gender gaps in art. They wear gorilla masks and are an anonymous group of “artivist” agitators who draw attention to the paucity of female artists by collectors, galleries and museums. They are famous for their billboards regarding major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. Some of the more (in)famous ones include, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art?” and “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are
women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” They derived that figure by doing a “weenie count” at the Met, using their signature outrageous and humorous approach to injustice.
Detractors often say, “What’s your problem? Everyone likes the female form because it’s so beautiful.” No one said they aren’t; however, more than a few of us would like to see men’s bodies, too. Michelangelo’s David comes to mind.
Brava! Pasadena Museum of History is doing a half year exhibition of little known female artists in California! I’m so pleased, I could pop. Bring the boys, bring the men, and obviously bring the women too!
We need to chip away at an often unconscious mindset that women aren’t artistic. When they express themselves with thread and needles of any kind, they are relegated to the lesser domain of “crafts.”
From now on, I invite you to be bothered when you notice how missing women are from the public discourse. As the late, great Ursula K. LeGuin said, “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experiences as our truth, as human truth, all maps change. There are new mountains.”
Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena, CA. Call 626-577-1660 or visit pasadenahistory.org for more information. To reach Ellen, visit beautybitesbeast.com.