Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Girl Power

Back in my day -- "my day" being the late 1980s-early 1990s in terms of undergrad days -- you had to look hard in an art history survey textbook to find any women artists. No longer true: in the current edition of Gardner's Art Through the Ages you find such talented painters as Sofonisba Anguissola, Rachel Ruysch, Judith Leyster, Mary Cassatt, etc., and that's not counting the 20th century artists like Frida Kahlo or Judy Chicago. This week my Survey 2 class will meet Caterina van Hemessen (shown) and next week, the courageous Artemisia Gentileschi.

My students are growing up in a world where women can do just about anything -- even run for president -- so they are surprised to learn that these painters weren't allowed to take art classes alongside male students or draw from male models. Surprised, too, to learn that art historians didn't care much about these painters until fairly recently. I see the girls sit up a little straighter in their seats when we talk about a woman painter, and I see how they react to the stories of how women artists overcame prejudice and obstacles to build successful careers. Makes us all feel proud!

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