Monday, June 13, 2011

One Perspective From A Woman Artist

Upon reading an article about the lack of women in the arts I really started thinking about it. I was thinking about my own experiences as a creative person. It is a rough road for women and our fight to be viewed as equals to men may have contributed.

Here is my line of thinking. I have seen so many women given up their dreams of having a career in the arts because they became part of a relationship where the husband / boyfriend convinced them their job was going to create more money and was more stable and there for they needed to live where the partner could get a job. Maybe the location was not ideal for the artist or they wanted to contribute a steady income to the family so they went into some other job where there is little to no creativity.

What does it take to be a income generating artist? From my experiences it takes a lot of traveling, a lot of shows and networking. You need to be mobile and flexible. Income can very and you need to save up on the good days to use on the slow. I can’t imagine how the average female artist would swing it with a tight income, close family ties and children to support. If able to get through these challenges and prevail there is the next set of challenges… People’s perceptions. If you are in a relationship as a female artist if the spouse is working a job for a company that pays and offers benefits being the artist with a more erratic income is not viewed as a real job. It is hard to deal with the idea I am doing art that doesn’t make a consistent income while my husband has to work the steady job. Am I a contributing member of society or am I just the eccentric housewife farting away my husband’s money on art supplies. Honestly in my case I am a eccentric house wife farting away money but have plans to go bigger and better once I reach a location I can get natural materials once again to work with. For my type of art I need the trees the rivers and the beaches.

My art business has slowed because of big moves but our next move is for me. The location will be ideal and it will start bustling again. When I started my business we lived in Upstate New York. My creations mainly were rock lamps. I would take a kayak out or hike with a back pack hand picking rocks that I would drill and piece nicely together to create amazing lamp bases. They had the regional flavor of the local rocks. Looking at a river bed and picking out what rocks would slide nicely together and seeing the lamp come together as it was strewn along the river bed covered in mud is an art form. I even found old tree roots and imagined the rocks nestled in the root system holding the whole lamp together. Some of the rocks I carved small images into and had to know what types of rocks would drill or carve well. The whole project started out with a hand held drill and hours of figuring out what types of bits would work. It then upgraded to a drill press, clamps, oils and saw horses. I even had a mini drill press with a dermal for the smaller rocks. It all made a fantastic mess.

I started an ETSY shop and bought a tent. I looked into local shows at first. This brought me to my second perspective on how women trying to make it as artists were treated. The local shows were a bust! People treated me like a crafter. They did not want to pay for something they viewed as an item they could whip up in their garages. They did not realize how much time I spent finding quality lamp components, coming up with how the whole thing would piece together or even how to make it happen at all. To this day I have gotten requests on ETSY asking me what type of bit I use so they can make rock lamps of their own…

I have set up a show and had people move past my work to a mirror I bought at Target so that people could view my jewelry in it and ask how much. I have been told I was charging an outrageous price for a lamp that they could easily walk down to the local Wal Mart and buy for twenty dollars. I would be sitting amongst fellow male jewelers, potters, sculptors, painters and photographers who would not get single comment of this nature. I believe gender played a roll but it was also a combination of location and not having a classic medium for the work. When you say you are an artist everyone asks if you paint. When you step outside of this area people have a harder time dealing with it.

We no longer live in Upstate New York. I had to find a new medium to work with. I wanted to learn how to make jewelry and learned the Lost Wax Casting Process. This is where you take a special type of wax, form it into a shape and then cast it into a final piece with silver, gold or bronze. I think if a artist wants to make it they have to adapt to their environment. When in nature I used nature now in an urban environment I use the man made materials around me. I feel more honest when stating this jewelry is art then before. It fits into the more conventional idea of what art is. I plan on taking more classes when we make our move to Oregon in two months. I also plan on doing a steady stream of shows to sell my work. The internet is overwhelmed with art now and I have honestly been having a much harder time selling things. This requires a call to dig deep get out there and physically make the effort.

I think the reason there are not many women in the arts is because it takes a willingness to really stick your neck out, take a chance and break some rules. When taking care of a family it makes it harder to take that risk. I think in our society it is still easier to perceive a man leading the direction of a family be it as an artist or a business executive then it is of a family packing up and following a woman’s artistic dreams. No matter the gender, picking a career in art takes guts. it’s a risky venture that has no boundaries or structure. It doesn’t offer health benefits and vacation days. Its not just doing the work but also selling an idea to people so they find value in it. Many people do not care about material or craftsmanship. They want to walk into a store, pick out the decor for their living room in one sweep and walk out. The idea of taking the time to search, walk around and hand pick each piece to add to your life is time consuming in a rushed over worked society.

For the women out there who are at odds with their creative side and their practical side I truly believe you should fight to do what you love and you will find a way. We only have one life to live and so many beautiful things to create in a short time. Our society needs art much more then it needs money. This is our burden and this our gift.

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