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Kelly Darke

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What Do Women Artists Think of Women's History Month?

Posted: 04/ 2/2012 10:59 am

I was one of three women artists interviewed recently by TheDetroiter.com for a series on women artists in the Detroit area. The other two artists interviewed were Claudia Shepard and Kristin Beaver, both accomplished painters. We were asked some basic questions about our art practice and its progress. We were also asked three more substantive questions that I would like to talk about:

1. Does beauty play a role in your art?

2. Are you particularly inspired by any women artists?

3. Do you see any roadblocks for being a professional artist that are particular to women?


Does beauty play a role in your art?

Beauty in art is a never-ending debate. Recently, the editor of TheDetroiter.com webzine, Colin Darke (yes, we are related... he's my brother) curated an exhibit titled Beauty Debate to address this topic. He invited artists whose works range from abstract sculpture to figurative paintings, from collage to video, to everything in-between. Every piece is unique and strong and somehow they all coexist comfortably within the gallery space at Art Effect in Detroit. I found some of the pieces to be beautiful in technique and craftsmanship; for some I thought the idea of the work addressed our societal concept of what beauty is or is not; and for some pieces I wasn't sure what to think. In my own work, I don't really try to create beauty but I work towards a feeling that I'm comfortable with - something that resonates with me and hopefully with viewers. Kristin Beaver, in contrast, says,

Beauty is central to my work; I paint people and things I find attractive. However, I am interested in the other side of beauty, as well." Claudia Shepard's response is similar to mine in that there is importance to the feeling of the work, she says she does not set out to make a beautiful painting and that "beauty for [her] is [her] own visceral response to the visual, imbued with meaning.

Are you particularly inspired by any women artists?

I think this is an important question to ask because we need to acknowledge that women artists have made an impact in the art world and paved the way for newer generations because of their high quality work, not just because they are women. There are also many current artists that are making great work and we should take notice. Some names that were mentioned did not surprise me, because they are in all the art history books. We named artists that create work that is exclusively from a female perspective and we named artists that are working now using old "traditionally women's work" in new ways. Some of the artists that we named are Emily Barletta, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler, Jenny Saville, Lee Bontecou, Louse Nevelson, among others. (See the interviews for a complete list of women artists that inspire us.)

Do you see any roadblocks for being a professional artist that are particular to women?

I like Claudia's answer to this question:


Actually, the generation of feminists as well as feminism in the arts helped pave the way to our thinking beyond a limited view of our roles as mothers and wives to achieving our own dreams and passions. Kate Chopin's "A Room of Ones' Own" empowered me to have my own studio. I feel that women artists who are as driven as men to focus on their art lives and education and who maintain high quality in their work should no longer have the roadblocks of the past.

I believe, however, that while women artists should no longer have the roadblocks of the past, they still do to varying degrees. Along with Claudia and Kristin, I am grateful for all the women artists that have worked so hard to make it easier for the rest of us. But it seems we -- women (not just artists) -- will need to continuously fight for what men take for granted. Like Kristin says, "The state of wavering in the current political landscape in terms of women's rights is utterly baffling and unacceptable..." In fact, the typical expectations of men and women are an issue that has been bothering me lately. I feel that a women's role as homemaker and nurturer is so engrained in our psyche that we feel guilty when we take time to ourselves to create artwork. I even asked my kids (nine and six years old) their opinions just to get an idea if and how our family patterns might shape their view. It was an interesting conversation and I was happy to hear them express the importance of gender equality. I hope it stays that way.

By the way, did you know the theme for this year's women's history month is women's empowerment? Ironic.