I’m back from visiting PAFA and it was a lovely, if somewhat grueling trip (yeesh – 12 studio visits in one day?!?! who does that?). The students were super nice and there’s a lot of good work going on there. Some photos…
Yeah. I took a picture of the sign. The museum itself is gorgeous, but I was running around like crazy and only took a few shots. Here’s one:
And this is the poster they made for me, which is now kicking around in my studio:
Anyway. During the artist’s talk there was a question asked that I get a lot and, upon coming home and seeing Jeff, I hear that it’s a question that’s popping up a lot in his art criticism classes as well.
The question was: Do you see yourself as a feminist artist?
The answer is… well…
On one hand, no. I tend to see feminist art as being specifically didactic in a way that my work is not. What’s more, if I made gigantic abstract paintings ripped straight from the 1940s/50s and you asked me if I was an Abstract Expressionist, my answer would be: No. How could I be? My work could, perhaps, be in dialogue with AE, or a reaction to/against AE, but how could I personally be an Abstract Expressionist? I was born a little late for that. Perhaps if Jackson Pollock had been my professor, or if I felt embraced and encouraged by the AEers, then maybe… but we’re assuming I wasn’t. Just like I have never especially felt embraced or encouraged by the Judy Chicagos and Miriam Schapiros of the world.
On the other hand, feminist art is one of those things: Are you with us or against us? If I stand there in front of this audience at this academy and flat out say, No – I’m not a feminist artist, what sort of message does that send? That I’m somehow afraid or ashamed of the history of feminist art? That I’d much rather cozy up to the guys in the audience than acknowledge that there is definitely a feminist influence on my work, even if I don’t consider it to be 100% wholly feminist?
That’s what makes this question suck so much. It’s a fair question, but I hate it all the same. I wound up giving as honest an answer as I could (basically, a shorter version of what I just wrote), mentioning along the way that I always lend my work to feminist art exhibits when asked, for the same sort of complicated reasons. Do I want to be the artist who clearly states, No, you can’t include my work – I’m not a feminist? Jesus, of course not. But ultimately, I tend to think that if we’re giving feminist art its due, we have to acknowledge that it dealt (perhaps “deals” – don’t feel like arguing that one) with the condition of women in general, women as a population, that sort of thing… whereas my work is really just about me, my life, my experiences. Period. I don’t speak for anyone else, nor would I ever want to.
So… it’s complicated. And I would say that my response to it will probably be ever-evolving. But one more thing that I wish I had said…
Kara Walker’s experiences with an older generation of African-American artists will sound familiar to any younger female artists who have tried to reach out to the older generation of feminist artists. The results are nearly always horrible: No matter how much we approach them as drooling art fans, we get told that our work is awful, a sell-out, and that we generally suck; that their generation was the best and always will be and ours knows nothing at all, the end. I feel pretty ok saying that the artists who I have met who have been the most mean and the least welcoming to me have been older feminist artists.
Which means, of course, when I’m in a Q&A session in a relatively conservative art school being asked, Do you consider yourself to be a feminist artist? my answer comes back as a mixed bag. Do I want to jump up and throw my arms around these artists who have been incredibly cruel to me and my friends? Well, no. Honestly, I’d like to tell them to go fuck themselves, to retire already, and that their (current and ongoing) behavior and attitude does more harm than good to younger female artists. But do I want to be that girl who breezes into town and disses a group of artists who clearly have made it possible for me to make and show my work? No. That’s not really a good solution either.