Feminism and False Charges of Sexism

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Feminism and False Charges of Sexism

From William Downey

Published before 2005

It is always sad when people see sexist behavior or prejudice when it doesn't exist. For us, it's the image that is important, not the artist; unlike much of modern art, where it seems that more often it's the artist on display, not the image.

As to the nudes, except for life drawing, I have not yet chosen to draw a male nude for a serious piece. My preference for females nudes has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual interest on my part (suffice to say that my personal interests are quite joyfully and actively focused on the opposite sex), but the female body is a pleasure for any artist to draw or paint. And for me, the female nude is absolutely exquisite when drawn or painted with finesse.

Does that brand me sexist?

By the way, I admit that that I became less concerned about showing nipples on my nudes after I moved to Europe and experienced a culture where the public, not only artists, show a healthier openness about nudity. Before then, I drew only sanitized nudes because I was afraid that I would be mistaken for being a little too interested in women.

As to the remark accusing sexism, two incidents in my experience:

1. When I had a gallery in Santa Teresa, NM, I created and judged the first national exhibition dedicated solely to Colored Pencil. As a result many of the accepted artists from around the country attended the reception. One of the female artists from California confronted me with the complaint that I was prejudiced against women artists because none had won the top awards (even though one had won an honorable mention). It was such a ludicrous comment that after the initial shock, I had to laugh. I only judged the works themselves and never, ever thought of the gender of the artist, much less even the artist's name. Of course, she made the comment because she was not given an award as she had anticipated.

A few days later, I discovered that all of her work was based on published photos. You guess I wrote her immediately and among other things, I explained that her work was not original and by the expressly written rules of the exhibition, they were not even eligible. I said it as kindly, but firmly as I could and gave her a little advice.

It took several years, but with more experience, she eventually wrote to thank me and to say that I was right.

2. For a few years, I was a member of the Women Artists of the West. Every member of the group was sent a questionnaire by a woman working on her Master's who wanted to show prejudice against female artists by male artists, the art community and collectors, etc.

I was horrified and offended by the leading wording in her questions. I don't have it in front of me anymore, but there were questions to the effect of "how much more do the male artists you know sell their work for than you, etc." I replied truthfully that I personally knew only one male artist that made more than me per comparable piece. The rest made considerably less. My replies were quite contrary to her anticipated answers throughout and I blasted her for perpetuating or even creating a "poor me" syndrome for women artists... in essence, the "I'm not selling or winning awards or taken seriously, because I am a woman artist." What rot! She never wrote me to thank me and I suspect my answers were not included in her thesis.

Ann James Massey


Ann James Massey,

Thanks for a great post. you can speak to this point of view with more force than I because you are a woman. My sister was gettingperfect marks in her undergrad for english, but when she went on to masters, she got hammered because she thought that great work is often about great and timeless ideals, not about feminism, queerism, social or cultural mediation, etc. She was quite a spectacle -they thought she was from the set of "Father Knows Best" or something. My sister is a gifted writer and scholar, but she bailed out on phd. plans after her nightmare in academia. The university lost a great scholar, and the loss is entirely theirs.

Congradulations on your sucess! My career of ten years has been a struggle and I know it takes a special kind of artist to make good work and make a career work.

William [Downey]