The XX Dilemma

I asked some academic art historians which women artists they were referring to in their classes. I got a blank stare.

I call it the toxic silence of women throughout art history, and it goes along with the patriarchal dominance in most forms of life, political, economic, cultural as well. Women's efforts are often derided as inferior to men's. Women are more often criticized for their language, attire, attitudes, and such criticism is usually based on a form of gender correctness - ie, standards established by men are assumed to be universal and not open to question. Prices paid for women's art at the major auction houses are drastically lower than for men. Major museums focus on men historically and are very slow to include women with solo shows in the present. Biographies of women artists are rare; try to buy some if you doubt me. Publishers emphasize male writers who tend to write about male artists. Art schools and universities, to the extent that they teach art at all, teach the works of male artists, partly because the historical record offers them little choice but also due to gender bias. In architecture, the current cityscapes are filled with cement and glass penises, but Hadid's elegant design for a stadium in Japan was rejected as soon as someone described it as a vagina. There are a few exceptions of course, but over all women artists are not given their due in history, and once written out have a difficult time being written back in.

In a world dominated by noise, where might often equals right, the voices of women are largely excluded. I recently emailed a prominent software company to point out that their conferences, tutorials, online work products, were completely male: there was not a single female shown, and there are plenty of us who use their program. (I have not received a response!).

This brings us to another issue: that of digital art generally, digital sculpture specifically, and 3D printed sculpture emphatically. It took photography 150 years to become accepted as an art form. With the rapid pace of events today I suspect that digital art will become accepted in shorter time, perhaps 20 or 30 years. Possibly its increasing use by Hollywood and the advertising industry is intensifying the pace. Sculpture generally has been male-dominated, and digital sculpture even more so.

Part of the problem is one of language and culture: before 3D printing and even now, most fabricators were male engineers. Their language of understanding is somewhat different from that of women. In my own experience, men tend to think in geometric terms, angled and edged, whereas I am drawn to organic forms. The result is that before I can work with fabricators we have to establish a common language of understanding so that we work as a team and not in opposition. Somehow I have to get them to "see" what I am seeing so that the product will reflect my vision rather than theirs. Since I am an experimenter by nature this means forcing them to think outside of their usual boundaries. There is also an inborn assumption that they know better than I do. If a woman objects to having her ideas altered by men's viewpoints, she is treated as being "bitchy" or difficult to work with. My general response is, I'm very good at what I do, so get over it and let's get to work. If you can't, I will go elsewhere.

Let me make it clear that I have worked with some exceptionally talented and understanding men in all fields of art, but they are rare.

Educationally it is vital that we encourage young women to enter the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as coding and all things digital. Silicon Valley is only now beginning, and just beginning, to accept women into the work force. It barely blinks at women artists.

When will we no longer be XX'd out of art history? I wish I knew.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2016

Be sure to read "Wield or Yield", which adds the voices of Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Talmud to the debate. Thanks to the Guerrilla Girls West for these timely reminders.