_ Women on

the verge

For all their feminine intuition and creativity, women are less likely to excel at Art School, make a career of their talent or attain that artistic acme, a solo show. They are even reluctant to call themselves ‘artists’. Sexism or self-denigration? Miranda France investigates.

It is a subject that women regard with immense frustration and that many men find tedious beyond belief: sexual equality. positive discrimination. ‘equal opportunities‘. Women are making small gains in the professional world, the law, business and certainly the media. But what of art? Why do statistics continually show them to be lagging?

Of this year‘s crop of Art School graduates roughly 60 per cent will be female. a proportion that is neither mirrored in the staff that help to channel student creativity, nor in the allocation of first class degrees. Those women who decide to make a career out of their skills are less likely than their male colleagues to work in a studio and many 3 more times likely to take anotherjob. and eventually to relegate art to a hobby. In 1990 only 29 women were awarded solo shows in Glasgow, compared to 85 men. But it‘s easy to talk statistics. harder by far to pinpoint a reason for them.

One temptation is to put the injustice down to proprietorial prejudice; after all. the art establishment is still largely male. Recco Mecco. a group ofGlaswegian women training to be art administrators has spent the last few months coordinating Wild Cherries. a 'festival ofwonten‘s art‘. Their show includes some established artists. such as Jackie Marno. Pheona Kerr and Rosann l Cherubini. as well as Vanity Sanity, the quirky shoemakers recently featured in Elle magazine. Many others are ‘kitchen table’ artists, women who dropped out of the art world or who never had the self-confidence to try entering it. Recco Mecco claim that many ofthe women in Wild Cherries have been rejected out of hand by galleries, simply because oftheir sex.

Does this kind of bias really exist? Artist Julie Robertson has recently caused a stir with her attack on the Glasgow Print Studio for its , male-dominated programme, but most exhibition organisers refute such an allegation. The Transmission Gallery argues that its exhibitions are representative of the applications received and Cindy Sughrue ofthe Collective Gallery agrees I that the problem is not so much with the selection, I


Joyce Calms: her works are included in national collections

whether it‘s a male or female artist unless we’re




Paula Latking, Jackie

but earlier, at the submission stage. ‘A few years ago. about 80 per cent of our applications came from men, although the actual programme was balanced about 50:50. This year the applications were much more evenly spread. in fact I think there might even have been more from women than men.’

Cyril Gerber, agent for Lesley Banks, Bet Low and Elizabeth Frink (as well as Peter Howson) professes himself to be adamantly unbiasedzi ‘We don‘t look at the statistics. We don’t notice

‘lt women are struggling they’re much more likely to give up and think “I should have been a hairdresser, alter all.”

dancing with them‘. But he does admit that women who have taken years out of their careers to have a . family are slightly less confident. ; The issue is obviously more complicated than a l case of straightforward sexism. Adele Patrick of I

McNairn, Kate Whiteford and other female artists account for a fairly healthy 40 per cent of Glasgow ' Museums‘ recent acquisitions. ‘The Director is

; redress the balance,’ says a spokesman at

' Kelvingrove, ‘but the policy is still to buy the best A, we can get.‘

and suggesting that their work is inferior. On the


-- T .. snaam and Nancy Benyaghla discuss plans tor Wild Cherries

the arts group Women in Profile makes the point that women generally feel daunted by the art world. After all, Past Masters are more in evidence in our national collections than Past Mistresses. It is easy to conclude. even subconsciously, that women are not as talented as men. ‘We did some research among women art school students, asking them, “do you call yourself an artist?", and none of them said they did,’ says Patrick. ‘Ifwomen are struggling they‘re much more likely to give up and think “I should have been a hairdresser, after all.“

It is the confidence-lacking artist, or the woman who never thought ofherselfas talented, that Recco Mecco has sought out for Wild Cherries. and, with posters in English. Punjabi, Urdu and Mandarin, they have attracted several Asian artists, including a woman who will use traditional henna-painting techniques to decorate willing punters. ‘The whole point isn‘t to look for critical acclaim, but to give women some encouragement.‘ explains one organiser, Jackie Shearer. To this end, there will be a creche and an information area to advise women on returning to work or taking further education in a range ofsubjects.

And beyond Recco Mecco‘s enthusiastic push there is plenty more about which to be optimistic: Art Exposure Gallery regards its annual Women with Attitude exhibition as a feather in its cap and generally has a 3:2 ratio of female to male exhibitors. Joyce Cairns, Bridget Riley. Caroline

aware of the deficiency and appears to be trying to

In the meantime, organisations like Recco Mecco have their work cut out; all-women shows inevitably run the risk ofghettoising women artists

other hand, they can provide breathing space for , the unsure and who knows? a starting point for l a major new talent. Wild Cherries is at the Centre for Developmental A rts, Sat 6—1 9 Jun. Women with Attitude is (11A rt Exposure throughout June.



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