Gender in Art: How I Unwittingly Participated in Perpetuating Gender Norms

Until a few months ago, I hadn’t noticed that I chose not to show pictures of myself in my online presence as an artist. Or that I chose the sexually ambiguous name “Jesse” over my birth name “Jessica”. Or that in my series “Imponderable Something”, a group of paintings and sculptures exploring cognition and perception, I unwittingly used all male models. I realized that I felt a need to hide my gender and started paying attention to the small but convincing voice inside me saying that my observations and artistic output would be valued more if they came from a man…. It sounds ridiculous to say out loud “in this day and age” and in the face of female successes whose names are known: Georgia O’Keeffe, Tracey Emin, Yayoi Kusama, Eva Hesse, etc. …. Still, in my own experience, galleries are dominated by males ( some I looked into represent only 1 or 2 women out of 80 artists). And More often than not people express a surprise at my artwork or technical capabilities, a shock that is not there for my male counterparts and is inherently patronizing. The attitude I run from comes in from my painting heroes too, male painters who openly speak of the inherent inferiority of female painters, here’s look’n at you Dali …Georg Baselitz….

When I realized I was inadvertently perpetuating images of inequality ( male thinkers ) I asked a few contemporaries how they thought my paintings would read if I used female figures. Overwhelmingly, the subject of how “people” perceive immediately changed to a feminist reading of how “women” perceive and “feel” I’m not interested in making feminist paintings…I want to make paintings about “human” phenomenon and experience…but the unfortunate fact that males register as “humans” and women register as “women” is a place I suppose I’ll have to muddle through if I intend to start treating my subject matter with the lens of equality.
I rarely feel like my gender. Growing up a child with sever pain and disfigurement from rheumatoid arthritis, I rarely feel like I am my body at all. It is my heart and my intellect, my ability to listen, observe, think and share … That’s what I identify with…


One thought on “Gender in Art: How I Unwittingly Participated in Perpetuating Gender Norms

  1. One of the principles of Mass Media is that Mass media convey intended and unintended messages. Those messages contain values, beliefs and ideologies.

    Current Western culture is presently trying to come to grips with diversity and acceptance of The Other . This can be seen across a variety of Mass media platforms; movies, television, comic books , computer games are heavily impacted . Perhaps we are finally acknowledging that the human condition incorporates diversity and within that diversity is our commonality. Then again their is the Mass Media principles of business interests and the target audience. The financial interests of Mass media companies realize that they can make more money by reflecting the diversity of the audience rather than imposing their narrow white empowered male perceptions & experiences on the content.

    Best of luck in your artistic journey. Excellent compositions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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