Art history reads like a litany of the same male names, over and over again, while women artists are sidelined as either “exceptional talents” or “token females”. For decades, women in art were thus excluded from academic discourse.
Although many women artists featured in exhibitions and enjoyed success during their lifetime, they were systematically written out of art history after their death. Until well into the 20th century, art history was the preserve of men, and while they did not deny the existence of women artists, they did for a long time use art produced by women to “prove” the superiority of male artists and consolidate that idea in the public psyche.
Artworks by women were considered separately – in special chapters on “women’s art”. Pieces by women were more quickly consigned to storage in museums and were more likely to be exposed to destructive influences. All this led to the ongoing marginalization and devaluation of female artists and the misappropriation of their work.
Until well into the 19th century, any evaluation of artistic competence was dominated by the myth that only men were capable of creative genius and could therefore hope to achieve greatness in art. Women artists, on the other hand, were purely intuitive; they were “miracles of nature” and were, at best, skilful imitators.
Time and again, art by women was described using typically feminine adjectives like “tender”, “sentimental”, “graceful” and “irresolute” – thus subordinating it to artwork produced by men. The misogynistic current in art literature found its pinnacle in Karl Scheffler’s 1908 essay “Die Frau und die Kunst” (“Woman and Art”), in which he stated: “Men enhance their nature by becoming artists, whereas women warp theirs.”
Although few people nowadays would go so far as to publicly express doubt about women’s ability to produce art, this bias is still expressed in less direct ways: women’s art is given less consideration in exhibitions, museum acquisitions and public collections, and women artists are far less likely to be awarded grants, prizes and professorships.
*1966 / German contemporary artist
Sibylle Zeh was born in 1966 in Stuttgart (Germany). She first studied in Vienna at the Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Applied Arts and later at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. There she has been living and working for many years now – amongst other works, on the „Künstlerinnenlexikon“ (encyclopedia of female artists),
By chance Zeh stumbles over Reclam‘s „Künstlerlexikon“ ( encyclopedia of artists) in a book store in 2006 and immediately notices how few women are included in the supposed overview of art history. By painting over all of the entrys for male artists with white paint, she makes the lack of balance visible.