“There are many great women artists. And we shouldn’t still be talking about why there are no great women artists. If there are no great, celebrated women artists, that’s because the powers that be have not been celebrating them, but not because they are not there.” - Joan Semmel
Can you name 5 women artists? That’s the question that the National Museum of Women in the Arts poses during Women’s History Month.
Okay, now actually ask yourself that question. Can you name 5 women artists?
Did you say Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe? Who else? Leave your answers in the comments below.
You may have named 5 women artists and that is great! Or maybe you didn’t, okay. Let’s change that. This question’s purpose is to show that women’s achievements have either been ignored or inadequately honored. The art world/community has been particularly guilty of this. That is probably why you can name many more men artists than women artists. Some quick facts before moving on…
Only 26% of the winners of the Turner Prize, one of the most well known visual art awards, have been women—though 6 women won since 2010. In 2017, Lubaina Himid became the first woman of color to win.
From the 16–19th centuries, women were barred from studying the nude model, which formed the basis for academic training and representation. (Women, Art, and Society)
A recent data survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the U.S. found that out of over 10,000 artists, 87% are male, and 85% are white. (Public Library of Science)
On average, only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries in the U.S. are women. In Australia, it’s about 40%; in China, 25%; in Hong Kong; 22%; and in Germany, less than 20%.
The top three museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870) have never had female directors.
I experienced both the art world and the general community’s disregard for women artists by simply not being exposed to women artists until recently. Growing up, I was familiar with the work of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, and Dali. And, I loved Vincent Van Gogh. I even dressed up as him in 6th grade. Yes, at some point, I was introduced to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, but that was about it.
In high school, I pursued photography and left my paint brushes and pencils by the wayside. I felt more confident taking photographs. Women were included in photography’s history since its inception. I figured I had a better chance of sharing my voice if I was photographer. I had the work of Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Sally Mann, and Annie Leibovitz to keep me company.
The Guerrilla Girls, a group of women artists and arts professionals founded in the 1980s, fight discrimination in the art community.
The group reframes the question: “Why haven’t there been more great women artists throughout Western history?” Instead, they ask: “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists throughout Western history?”
This month, I will uncover and celebrate the work and lives of women artists both past and present. Join me each week on this blog or follow me for my daily posts on Instagram at @ereedlee.
Learn more about #5womenartists or take a pledge by visiting, the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
I will begin by diving into the work and life of Corita Kent.
To quickly introduce her, I will use The Corita Art Center’s summary.
Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18 she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching in and then heading up the art department at Immaculate Heart College. Her work evolved from figurative and religious to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature. Throughout the ‘60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and injustice. In 1968 she left the order and moved to Boston. After 1970, her work evolved into a sparser, introspective style, influenced by living in a new environment, a secular life, and her battles with cancer. She remained active in social causes until her death in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions.
Some keywords: She was a printmaker, a nun, and a teacher. She did the majority of her work in LA and Boston. She was a contemporary of Andy Warhol. Oh, by the by, a serigraph is the fine art way of referring to a silkscreen. Silkscreens were associated with commercial art and advertising, so Carl Zigrosser coined the term to improve the practice’s reception. Since most screens are no longer made from silk, the process is often referred to as screenprinting today.
I started Women’s History Month with Corita Kent, because I was most awestruck to have not her of her until recently. As a pop artist who incorporated positive messages in her work and a nun, it seems ridiculous that her life and her work were never shared with me in the Catholic school I attended. WHY DID I ONLY FIND OUT ABOUT HER BY WAY OF A RANDOM PODCAST?
She would have been a great source of inspiration and hope. I was a very religious and spiritual kid. At one point, I wanted be a nun. I wanted to be like Sister Maria in The Sound of Music. Eventually, I lost faith in Catholicism and associated Catholicism with rigidity and self-hatred. Looking at back it now, however, I believe much of what had become Catholicism for me was caused by my experience of it. How it was taught and how I interpreted it. Corita Kent’s experience and interpretation were very different from my own.
Her work was uplifting in subject and color. She brought the spiritual to everyday symbols. The G in General Mills no longer stood for “Goodness” but rather “God”. Kent's work was also democratic. Prints could be purchased by the everyday person.
She was an incredible teacher. She taught students the fine art of looking. She gave students grand assignments that both challenged and invigorated their creative spirits. An assignment might be to create fifteen giant banners by the end of the week or come back tomorrow with five hundred questions about the Eames film you have just watched. She sounds like my teacher Charlotte Cosgrove at the Glassell Studio School.
As her work revolved more around social justice and her art practice became more demanding in the late 1960’s, she decided to leave the religious order at age 50.
There is much more to Corita and her work, so please continue to learn by clicking the links below.
Corita Kent: Nun with a Pop Art Habit, Harvard Magazine
Corita Kent and the Language of Pop, Susan Dackerman
A Nun Inspired By Warhol: The Forgotten Pop Art Of Sister Corita Kent, All Things Considered, NPR
Corita Kent: Patron Saint of Pop Art, The Art History Babes
“The artist is never alone, in that everyone else is going through the same process—each with her own unique sound. So we are really all in it together, and there are no people who are not artists.” - Corita Kent, 1979