The fact that women are still underrepresented in the art world of today is such a disappointment. I wish I could say it is also a surprise. Much like the civil rights movement of the 60s, after the height of the women’s movement and the institutional respect and acceptance of feminist art during the 1970s, as a culture we had the hand-wiping attitude of a problem that had been solved. But not so. As with the BLM movement, the COVID pandemic revealed that not much had really changed within the gendered expectations and experiences of our society. Although the workforce included a greater number of women than in decades past, with most working full-time, women were still, for the most part, responsible for household and childcare duties.
The pandemic removed the illusion of independent, self-sufficient, career driven womanhood by revealing the weight of all the myriad home-life related chores that had been outsourced to other less-privileged women. The same old sexist framework was still there all along, hidden beneath a comfy padding of dollar bills. Outwardly, for a couple of decades, it truly looked as though things had changed. A career and child both! A family and a fulfilling job! We can have it all. Look how far we have come. The unfortunate truth was that the mirage of freedom and equality was only available because of paid additional support from other women.
It is this hidden skeleton of disparity that the art world too, is built upon. The social and political framework of capitalism favours a certain type of worker. A hustler, a grinder, someone who is willing to go big or go home. The system is built for making money, and the faster the better. Scale up. In fact, things truly have been scaling up, even material things like houses, cars, grocery stores, family vacations, post-secondary education. This is where unregulated capitalism brings us, and it is unsustainable.
What does this have to do with the art world? Well, like any other industry, art is attached to a market, and as we know, the free market prioritizes economic growth above all else. An artist who is also a mother is in most cases working the ‘second shift’. That is, as detailed above, they are most likely to be the ones in charge of the domestic sphere, including the children. This reality does not jive well with a bombastic studio practice built around a bohemian, foot-loose lifestyle, which is the antiquated myth that still persists around the creation of artwork.
Who are the ones who can more readily embody this ideal? Young men, or older men who have remained in this role throughout their careers. There are exceptions to this of course, but I am generalizing to make a point. It is a matter of time and focus, and any artist who is also a mother is in short supply of these two essential ingredients. Who are the artists making it to all the evening gallery openings and artist talks? The meeting and greeting? Who are the artists with studio spaces separate from their homes and stuffed full of work? Who are the artists with mentors? Someone who looks like them? Where is the shop talk taking place? The evolving artistic dialogue is not happening at the family dinner table or in bed before storytime. Or with the other parents at school drop-off and pick-up. How can you be in two places at once? It is hard to contort oneself to fit a mold that is not designed for you. It takes extraordinary measures and a will of steel to climb a man-made mountain. Mercifully, one of the defining characteristics of an artist is someone who finds a way to be truly themselves, bending the world to their inner compass, letting the world in on how they see things, how things feel in their skin. This caveat to the chimerical role in society of the capital ‘A’ artist may be the saving grace of the profession.
Thank goodness (goddess?) for the progressive thinking of those mothers and artists who are able to find a way to create and be visible in the art scene by bending the social strictures, shattering outdated myths, finding loopholes and forging new paths. It takes exceptional strength of determination and motivation to keep in the game and succeed. The women chosen for the exhibition The State(s) of Being at the Lake Country Art Gallery - Janine Hall, Joice M. Hall, Lindsay Lorraine, Mary Smith McCulloch, and Rhonda Neufeld - have proven themselves to be artists and mothers who are supernaturally spirited. They have decided to want something for themselves and they are not afraid to take it. Culture and society benefit from these women. We need their voices and their vision. They are wanted and needed, not only by their children and family but by their art community at large, and the world beyond.
Bree Apperley is a Canadian mother, artist, designer and writer based in Syilx territory (Okanagan, B.C.). She holds degrees in both Fine Art and Design Art, from the Alberta College of Art + Design and Concordia University respectively. For more information about the author visit https://breeapperley.com/ and on instagram @fwuitbowl.