In honor of Women’s History Month, we at Art Business Journal set aside some time to connect with women artists to hear their stories of success and to gain insights into the positive role that mentors have played in their career. Unsurprisingly, some key advice emerged as conversations formed detailing the importance of having successful women artists in the field to invest in up-and-coming women artists. From focusing on women’s issues through creating feminist art to confronting social issues head-on, there are many avenues of approach for women to question and further assert their role in the arts. Although women make up a higher percentage of artists, male artists still control sales in the fine arts market. In an environment where women artists’ solo exhibitions risk being seen as a passing fad, we took the time to hear from these women about success, collaboration, and support.
Learning from Women Artists
Artist and curator Etty Yaniv reflects on how strong women role models originally began playing a role in her life during her time studying as an artist. “Several of the women mentors I was lucky to work with played substantial roles in my formative years, both as role models and catalysts. The women mentors I first encountered were mostly teachers or visiting artists in my MFA program and, later, in art residencies. I kept in touch with some of them and our paths crossed years later – in a role of an artist or a curator; at times, even as both.”
The impact that women can play as role models in the arts has emerged as a growing topic among working women artists, critics and curators, particularly in the wake of searing sexual harassment and assault scandals that have rocked in the arts in the past few years in wake of the #MeToo movement, unseating iconic figures in the arts from art publications to museums. Artnet News senior writer, Sarah Cascone, and Katya Khazei have done their part by creating “Young Women in the Arts” in 2015.
The two women have guided young women who are emerging from their studies in art practice and art theory, introducing them to arts organizations and artists that celebrate women and expanding opportunities for them to build a network in the fine arts. The organization has enabled emerging women across the arts to tour exhibitions one-on-one with curators and visit with established artists. One such discussion with internationally renowned artist Marilyn Minter proved especially notable for Khazei, who remarked, “It was nice seeing young women who had just graduated speaking to someone that’s had such a great career.” Artist and Curator Katie Hector builds on Khazei’s observations, noting that while the work began with second-wave feminism, it is the role of millenial women to continue building on these successes. “I see prodigious women in leadership positions at all levels in the arts, we just need more ! Our mother’s generation certainly helped us get a foot in the door and now each of us is contributing to this necessary sea change.”
Opportunities for Women in the Arts
Belonging to a network of women can be a re-affirming and powerful form of increasing visibility for women artists. Artist Carolyn Oberst reflects on her time working with an artist organization that features many women artist members who regularly link up to share advice and work together on a variety of career-related topics. “I belong to an artists group, the NY Artists Circle, which was founded as a support group for woman artists and has been regularly meeting once a month for 25 years,” notes Oberst. “
These women share their work experiences, helpful information, and all aspects of a career as an artist to help and mentor each other. It is the lack of women leading the way in the arts that has made a group like this so essential. As everyone knows there are fewer women shown and collected by museums, and even the most successful women artists find their work is valued much less than that of men, by the auction houses and the galleries. While there is some effort to change this today, it still is not even close to equal representation or value. Women need more opportunities to show their work and to be leaders in the arts, mentoring others on how to pursue their careers successfully.”
While some artists seek the support of a larger group of artists dealing with similar issues, others may seek a more personalized approach. The added benefit of seeking out and forming strong friendships with other artists who are confronting similar issues, whether it be other artists who are women, LGBTQIA+, or any other group an artist identifies with and wants to seek further advice and affirmation from. Artist and Curator Ventiko notes of her personal women mentors in the arts that she is lucky enough to have cemented relationships that have stood the test of time and allowed her greater opportunities as a woman working in the arts. “I’ve been very fortunate and have had two female curators/community organizers function as my “Art Moms”. Their love and support have been monumental in both my artistic and personal development. Other artists have informed me this is a very rare scenario, and I am grateful to have them in my life.”
Ultimately, women working in the art world shouldn’t feel abandoned or alone. Despite the challenges we all face in confronting ingrained stereotypes and biases, we as women artists and creatives owe it to one another to applaud other women achieving success in the art world. By supporting women in positions of authority and prominence in the arts, we raise the visibility of women in the field and ensure that the glass ceiling gets another crack – inching toward the end of such a ceiling altogether.
Have advice you want to share with rising young women artists? Any stories to share from your own career as a woman artist? Shout it out – share your thoughts in the comments below!