I have only recently been able to call myself an artist more than 25 years after leaving art school. In an elite art education environment I learned how to make work in a blank space out of nothing and I was taught how to talk about the work I made, but I never learned how to value that work.
I also learned how my public-school-educated male friends didn’t have the distractions of part time work that ensured I didn’t mount debts that neither me or my parents could pay. This work included picking kids up from school, taking them home & cleaning their houses, while their stressed out mums tried to have a career, working evenings in a bar and Sundays in a bookshop. Our college professor reprimanded for not getting into the studio at 10am everyday, told me I’d never succeed if I carried on like that. He made me feel rubbish.
And I was one of the lucky ones. I had good role models- educated, liberal parents, an aunt who was an artist, a mum who was a feminist and a dad who taught me how to mix cement and build walls from the age of four because I was more interested than my 3 brothers. But still I thought that the way to be an equal was to be ‘one of the lads’ so I shut my eyes and closed my ears to feminist artists, even to Eileen Cooper (one of the amazing mums whose kids I looked after and house I cleaned) and to my aunt, Jackie Morreau. I ignored any inequalities.
I wish now that I’d known that the Women’s Art Library existed all through that time- all those wonderful women making and writing about their work and ideals. Having lived a woman’s life for 30 years more than I had when I was intimidated by that professor, I have the joy of hindsight, and it may be that I wasn’t ‘rubbish’, and that success doesn’t need to be defined by a male artist or academic.
So looking back at women who’ve made art in the past, and exploring their work, can give us a sense of space and place, somewhere we belong. Sharing work with each other helps us see the range of what women do and how we make our voices and the voices of others heard, how we respond to the environment and society.
It now feels imperative to talk to younger people, teenagers and children of all genders, to hear what they think about art, whether they are up for doing some and how they see it in their world. If we can make a small impact that helps the next generations find and define their ability to create, as it fades from mainstream education, that would be amazing!
We’re delighted to be collaborating with our workshop delivery partners who work with young people in St Pauls, Hartcliffe and Withywood, Bristol: