The emergence of women as serious artists

Why have women writers, artists, and musicians had such a hard time being taken seriously?

For years, "artist" wasn't a respectable profession for anybody , male or female, until the Italian Renaissance. Even then, most parents would not have chosen an artistic endeavor as a profession for their children. Artists have always been an enigma to most people, who don't realize that they engage in hard and noble work. Still, long after "artist" was an acceptable career choice for men, it remained outside the sphere of respectable women.

This may have had something to do with the occasional nudity in drawing classes, or the occasional partying. Or it could have been the independent thinking that might had been present in women writers, which was discouraged by society until the 20th century. or in musicians, who may have favored the company of the wrong kind of people . The end result was that males got a huge head start on becoming famous artists of any kind.

Art is one of the most rewarding endeavors a human being can pursue; but it is all consuming and extremely demanding in terms of time and concentration. To create it spectacularly a person needs to eat, sleep and breathe it, which means a lot of other things may be neglected, temporarily or totally; such as, raising children and parenting, both of which take a phenomenal amount of physical labor and do not leave a lot of free time, let alone free time during which the brain is bursting with creativity. It's a matter of choices. A female artist can concentrate on art or take care of other people, but it's nearly impossible to do both at the same time. Why do you think Grandma Moses blossomed so late?


Jane Austin

Women writers

After watching the movie "Becoming Jane", about a determined woman writer named Jane Austin, I was reminded again of the obstacles set up by society that have prevented women from enjoying the same professional lives pursuring the arts as men. Austin, who wrote during the Victorian period, is actually the only woman who earned a place in the the list of literary works defined as "classic literature".

It wasn't until the 19th century that women writer's such as Emily and Charlott Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Elliot were added to the list. Recent historical research has revealed that many women were writing when Jane Austen was alive, but their work was not considered worthy enough, by male critics, to have been preserved for the future. In actuality, women had been writing professionally for over a century before Jane Austen.

Female authors in Jane Austen's time faced a number of obstacles. The opinion of society was that women should treat writing as a hobby and concentrate on their domestic duties as a wife, mother, daughter or sister. There was also the risk of spoiling a good reputation. It made it difficult for women to take themselves seriously as writers. Today, women still face the obstacle of taking themselves seriously as writers.

These obstacles may be only subtly present and barely recognizable in their social reality, but they are strongly reinforced by social attitudes that tell women that their only really serious job in the world is taking care of other people. And, there is still the spoken and unspoken belief that only men can be great artists. When the work of women writers is hailed for its excellence, it is always, perhaps unconsciously, viewed as an exception.

Women painters

These attitudes were not only prevelant when it came to women writers, but were directed towards women artists as well. I've often wondered , as others have, why more women artists aren't represented in major museums. Art historians and museum curators have offered several possible reasons: nice girls must guard their reputations, women artists are not taken seriously enough, and women artists tend to multitask. They are the very same reasons why women writers were not taken seriously, but at least writers have had a better time of gaining reputation and being preserved than women artists.


Mary Cassatt, self portrait

One Of my favorite women artists is american Mary Cassatt. I have a beautiful Cassatt print hanging in the dining room of my bed and breakfast, along with the other impressionist painters who I love so well. Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, PA.
One Of my favorite women artists is american Mary Cassatt. I have a beautiful Cassatt print hanging in the dining room of my bed and breakfast, along with the other impressionist painters who I love so well. Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, PA.
La Toilette, painted in 1893
La Toilette, painted in 1893
The Letter, painted in 1891
The Letter, painted in 1891

Berthe Morisot

painting by Edouard Manet, 1872
painting by Edouard Manet, 1872
The Cradle, painted in 1873
The Cradle, painted in 1873

Another women artist who struggled with the fact that she was a women was Berthe Morisot, 1841-1895. She also painted during the 19th century and was a member of the circle of artists in Paris at that time who became known as the impressionists.

Her membership in this famous group of male artists was probably due to the fact that she was married to Eugene Manet, the brother of Edouard Manet, a well known French impressionist and member of the group. However, it is believed that she eventually gained their respect for her art in its own right. Although she was undervalued for over a century because of her gender, she is now considered among the first league of Impressionist painters.

Women musicians

Most well-known women performers of music are singers, rather than instrumentalists. They are singers of either opera or popular music, such as jazz, blues, soul country, and rock. Very few classical instrumentalists, composers and conductors are well known. As early as the 18th century, sopranoes were recognized, honored and respected for their talents, but it was considered unacceptable and inappropriate, at that time, for women to play any kind of instument or spend their time composing. They were limited to singing.

In the 19th century, Clara Schuman wrote: "Composing gives me great pleasure...there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because, through it, one wins hours of self-forgetfulness when one lives in a world of sound." Schumann was probably the first women accepted into the predominantly men's world of music, during that period.

One hundred years later, Galina Ustvolskya composed twenty one works, including symphonies, sonatas and chamber pieces in Leningrad, Russia . She was a student of Shostakovich and one of the very few who have been recognized as legitimate classical composers. She lamented " Can a distinction really be made between music written by women and music written by men...I am of the opinion that such a division should not be allowed to persist."

Hope for the future

Although, we have seen a slight change in this state of unequal opportunity over the past 50 years, the majority of women in classical music still remain opera singers, rather than composers, conductors and instrumental soloists. Hopefully, the barrier that women have had to battle to take their rightful place in the field of classical music is slowly erroding and women are achieving more than ever.

Where nineteenth and twentieth century women writers, artists, and classical musicians have had to remember their "place" is in the home, society has evolved to the point where a public career in the field of serious art, writing and classical music is now a possibility. In the past, a women who tried to become an artist in her own right was ridiculed and censured. But today, some women have broken through the barriers and gone on to public acceptance, despite these obstacles.

Marin Alsop, recently appointed conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Alsop was officially made the first woman to head a major U.S. orchestra in 2007. But there continues to be a  shortage of prominent female conductors. Women have yet to attain  the power, prestige and astronomical pay scale of there male counterpart
Alsop was officially made the first woman to head a major U.S. orchestra in 2007. But there continues to be a shortage of prominent female conductors. Women have yet to attain the power, prestige and astronomical pay scale of there male counterpart

JoAnn Fallett, conductor and musical director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Today women can step up to the podium with more support, self-confidence, and prospects for success than ever before in history. But there are still far fewer women than men choosing to make a career of conducting. It remains a male-dominated field.
Today women can step up to the podium with more support, self-confidence, and prospects for success than ever before in history. But there are still far fewer women than men choosing to make a career of conducting. It remains a male-dominated field.

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Comments 16 comments

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

What a nice Hub about women artists. Women who engage in artistic endeavors aren't always understood, even today.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the comment, Lisa, glad you enjoyed the hub


Kendall H. profile image

Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

Thanks for the hub! Makes me very hopeful and determined for the future!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Great Hub, Alek. Women artists in all fields of art have been sadly neglected and yet they faced tremendous obstacles in their endeavours. I salute the great women of art!

Thanks for this great story.

Love and peace

Tony


Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 6 years ago from Virginia

Very nice and enjoyable read! :)

I think that today, what I see anyway, is that new artists have difficulty being able to maintain this part: "To create it spectacularly a person needs to eat, sleep and breathe it."

But it's due to not being able to make enough money off of the art (whatever the medium) they currently create. So they have to take on side jobs or full-time jobs that take away from the time they really need to spend eating, sleeping and breathing their art.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

@kendall: Thanks for comments. I do hope your future is filled with good things.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Tony. So glad you are supportive of these issues.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

"To create it spectacularly a person needs to eat, sleep and breathe it."

Pam, You're so right about this. It's especially difficult for women who want to be wives and mothers, as well. My daughter gave up being a mother to be a professional ballet dancer. There was a time when she regretted it, but she has now come to terms with it.


Sarea 6 years ago

A very thought provoking article. I was intrigued and looked up a few famous female artists, it really is an undervalued area of the art world.

I agree with Pam, with society as it is, it is almost impossible to dedicate yourself to such a pursuit. I dream of becoming a professional artist, and have produced a number of pieces for other people. But I have had to take a course in computer science (a difficult enough area in itself to become established in as a woman) instead of the fine art course I had hoped to take, and restrict my painting time to a rare free evening or weekend when I have a lull in my work to ensure that I would have a career in the future.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Sarea, Thanks so much for your comments. What a shame to have to spend time away from your artistic endeavors. I guess the computer can really come in handy when marketing your work, if that's what you intend to do eventually. I know it has helped me, as a writer.

But, nevertheless, our society is really taking its time giving artistic and creative women their their rightful places in history, alongside the men.


ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 6 years ago

Hey alekhouse , women are and have been more apt to be exploited , in arts , hollywood, music , etc. Anything in business is apt to be controlled by a mans world. Although I believe that women are more artistic and articulate in emoting most anything to do with life. I also think the internet is changing everything today . That will benefit women , I believe . great info....


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the hub


DjBryle profile image

DjBryle 5 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

Women with such artistic endeavors are not taken seriously that much even at this present time. But our love for the arts won't change that. Thanks for sharing this thought provoking and at some point a really very inspiring hub. Voted up for a useful and beautiful hub.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, DjBryle, this is one of my very favorite women's issues.


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

alekhouse,

I support anything and everything that supports women. We have done allot since we are "allowed now to speak in public, own assets and vote" - that was 8.18.1920?

While we have the legal right for decades, the appreciation and respect must be actively sought and fought for. I fear for our females overseas. I thank God for our freedom daily.

Wonderful piece - you are a terrific writer - thank you very much!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks

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