Cindy Nemser has added to our understanding of how, why and under what circumstances women make art. Here we are given enormous insight into the motivations, backgrounds, working habits and ideas of these artists.... Some of the women are outspoken, some reticent, some funny, others deadly serious; with all, there is an intimate glimpse of personality, mannerism, character and thinking that cannot be found elsewere."
Marcia Tucker, founder of the New Museum
"Fills an important gap in contemporary art critical scholarship...some of the most forthright and useful statements on these artists' work which have appeared to date: indeed, they are in many cases literally the 'last word.'...I recommend Art Talk most enthusiastically and plan to make extensive use of it in my own teaching."
Howard Conant, New York University
"The author has chosen women artists of real stature and through her empathetic conversational technique has elicited information of historical importance as well as human and aesthetic interest."
"A spendid book... The artist answer and converse with breathtaking candor. I couldn't put it down. It's a valuable sourcebook."
John Perreault, Village Voice
BARBARA HEPWORTH • SONIA DEALUNAY • LOUISE NEVELSON • LEE KRASNER • ALICE NEEL • GRACE HARTIGAN • MARISOL • EVA HESSE LILA KATZEN • ELEANOR ANTIN AUDREY FLACK • NANCY GROSSMAN BETYE SAAR • ISABEL BISHOP • JANET FISH
More than forty years ago, the supposedly liberal avant-garde art world was no more exempt from sexist behavior than any other world. But gender discrimination was never discussed openly, so I began to query women artists, old and young, recognized and unknown, to discover how they assessed their position within the art community. The outcome of this probe, begun in 1970, was an article, included in this book, entitled “Forum: Women in Art,” and the results were depressing. Many women interrogated were ashamed of their sex, viewed their work as inferior to men’s, were torn between their roles as artists and wives and mothers; they experienced all sorts of discriminatory behavior from dealers, critics, curators, and male artists, and yet feared association with other women artists. Only a handful my interviewees showed any signs of awareness of their actual situation or were angry enough to denounce it verbally. Women artists had been exploited and excluded whenever possible, from all areas of power and prestige. And whenever total ostracism was impossible, their efforts and valid achievements had been frequently demeaned and downgraded.
At the same time that I was doing my research, Linda Nochlin published an article entitled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in Art News.” In this essay she stated that women artists had never achieved a level of greatness to match that of the greatest of male artists. In a tone tinged with sarcasm she wrote, “The fact, dear sisters, is that there are no women equivalents for Michelangelo, or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cezanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even, in very recent times, for de Kooning or Warhol.” She continued, in the same vein of ironic detachment, to proclaim that “the fault, dear brothers, lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and education….”
In the light of my recent research exposing the biased attitudes and evaluations of women artists written into art historical and critical texts, I was shocked to read this equally biased pronouncement from a woman art historian who calls herself a feminist. She inadvertently naturalized the idea that great women artists do not exist, giving misogynistic critics and historians rationale to diminish the accomplishments of women artists. Without needing to delve into the past, we have before our eyes the awesome works of artists like Louise Nevelson, Barbara Hepworth, and Eva Hesse; how could Nochlin, in good conscience, proclaim that there were no women artists to match a de Kooning or a Warhol? From Nochlin’s point of views, women artists were no longer to be condemned as anatomically illequipped but rather as culturally undernourished; but in either case, they were still incapable of producing first-rate art. I felt I had to help win back for women their rightful place in the forefront of art history. And where better to begin than in my own time with the assistance of the great women artists of the twentieth century. I chose my artists carefully, delighted that these women were not just artists great among women; they held their own with men as well. Included in the original 1975 publication were: Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Louise Nevelson, Lee Krasner, Alice Neel, Grace Hartigan, Marisol, Eva Hesse, Lila Katzen, Eleanor Antin, Audrey Flack, and Nancy Grossman. When Art Talk was re-published in 1995, I additionally included Betye Saar, Isabel Bishop and Janet Fish. They were all women I see as major contributors to the art of our century, each making a unique and influential statement from the first decade up to the seventh.
The primary purpose of this collection of conversations is to furnish, in their own words, an insight into the aesthetic achievements of the some of the foremost artists of the twentieth century who happen to be women. In some cases (Delaunay’s, Neel’s and Krasner’s), they are still not given the respect they deserve. It must no longer be possible for an art historian or critic to ignore the contributions of women artists and to perpetuate the inequity of keeping them separate, isolated, unable to compete and take laurels among male Art Talk: Conversations with 15 Women Artists by Cindy Nemser peers. In the past, women of distinction were looked on as a strange series of accidents, oddities, freaks, exceptions. By bringing the outstanding women artists of our century together in one book, I believe it will become clear that the highest accomplishment, greatness, in female artists is a rule rather than an exception.
These interviews are documents which add to our knowledge of the era in which these artists operated and clearly indicate how much pertinent information has been lost because of the sexist exclusion of women from art historical texts. Many of these conversations provided new data which raise art historical questions of both a general and specific nature. How does a male chauvinist culture act to keep female innovation in the background? For example, how were Lee Krasner’s contributions to the development of allover abstraction obscured and diminished by her relationship with Jackson Pollock? How have women artists who refused to conform to a macho standard influence the male art world? Specifically, how has sexism kept Audrey Flack’s contribution to Photorealism from being credited and what motivated her explorations of femininity through allegorical still lifes?
In the forty years since Art Talk was first published, I am gratified to see that attitudes toward the accomplishments of women artists and women in general have altered drastically for the better. More recently, the most powerful segments of the art world have begun scrambling to exhibit women artists that they shamefully neglected for years. However, the statistics still reveal that women artists are not exhibited in equal numbers to their male colleagues nor are their opportunities for career advancement nearly as plentiful as those for men. Moreover, women artists have not as yet been fully integrated into twentieth century art historical texts. Until this goal is realized, a book that focuses, in depth, on the achievement of outstanding female artists is still a necessity.