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I paint, therefore I am

I paint, therefore I am. C Best, 2010

I paint, therefore I am. C Best, 2010

In the next series of posts I want to move on to another theme in the history of women’s self-portraiture, that of motherhood. But in the interest of tying up loose ends I should make some kind of conclusion to this theme.

In exploring art history in general, the female artist is largely absent from the famous collections, the main catalogues and archives. How we were regarded and the occupations we had in society were directly determined by our gender. Our gender excluded us from most professions including that of artist right up until the 20th century. During the Renaissance period, when the ideal of artist came to the fore and became differentiated from that of artisan, the number of women working as artists was minuscule, especially when compared to the explosion of artistic opportunities for men.

When you ponder the reasons for our absence, one sees that it wasn’t easy for a women to be an artist and certainly not easy to be a successful one. Those who survived needed more than independent means, a kindly patron and father to support his daughter’s ‘unusual talent’. They needed a way of occupying the space, of being accepted as an artist and so began the search for ways to paint ourselves into the frame.

One of the most prominent and successful ways women did this was to paint their self-portrait as an artist. Painting themselves as an artist was a direct claim on the territory, and so we see it become a reoccurring theme – women with their easels and palettes, maulsticks and aprons. For hundreds of years women have painted themselves into prominence using this dialogue. It became an enduring paradigm; one that was used over and over again and one that evolved and morphed with each new century.

So there’s a debt to history here and it seems we owe our female predecessors much by being able to say ‘I paint, therefore I am an artist.’

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