Tag Archives: women artist

Ladylike Artist: Dorothea Lange

Photo by Paul Taylor. 1935.

You may not know her name, but I can guarantee you are familiar with her iconic photograph Migrant Mother. The image has come to be a staple in most U.S. History textbooks, representing the poverty that struck farmers during the Great Depression. It also is used as an example of the type of work that was done by photographers hired as part of the New Deal program, the Farm Security Administration. By the time she was hired under the FSA to document the plight of displaced farmers, she already had a portfolio full of images capturing the very real, daily effects of the Great Depression on the West Coast.

To be able to photograph people, especially people you do not know has always been something I have admired. There is a vulnerability to being photographed, a sudden self awareness, that I am uncomfortable experiencing so I am uncomfortable asking others to experience it. When I see work by a photographer like Lange’s, a photographer who spent her entire career photographing others, I am in awe. Her work alone is awe inspiring but considering her willingness to move in to an uncomfortable space to take these photos adds a level of deep reverence I am not sure I could articulate.

She believed these photographs were important, she believed that the government and the American people needed to see what was happening to their fellow citizens. It is evident she respected the individuals she asked to photograph. Although she did not spend long periods of time getting to know each of them, she made a point of introducing herself, sharing a bit of her story, what she was doing, why she was doing it, and asking for permission to document a few moments of their life.

The depth of her passion was exposed while on assignment by the military to document the Japanese American relocation and internment in California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were looking for a photographer that would take the propaganda images they thought the American people needed to see in order to be assured that although these individuals were rounded up and relocated in these camps, they were being treated well and not tortured. Instead they hired a photographer unwilling to conform. Lange documented the harsh reality of what was happening to American citizens. Despite having a sensor follow her around to direct what she could and could not photograph, her images still captured the truth they didn’t want seen. Once they saw the images she was producing, she was fired and all of her work was impounded until the end of WWII. At the end of the war they were quietly released to the National Archive where they remained unseen until 2006 when they were published in the book Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment.

 

To learn more about the artist:

 

Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about woman artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Ladylike Artist: Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper, unknown.

 

Since I am in the midst of completing a few big home improvement projects it seemed fitting to crush on the pioneer of American Interior Design, Dorothy Draper, this week. Not only is she credited with starting one of the first American design firms but she is also a woman who started and ran her own business in the 1920s. That business, under her guidance turned into an empire. Her style become a classic and she revolutionized the way we decorate our homes today. She dismissed the norm of ‘period rooms’ and blended various styles with bold color to create a space unlike anyone had ever seen before.

Although my own more conservative and quiet style is far from her bold stripes and daring color combinations I have always been encouraged by her famous quote, “If it feels right, it is right.” She wasn’t worried about faux pas or technicalities and in her regular column in Good Housekeeping Magazine she encouraged women to adopt her attitude to have fun decorating their homes to fit their individual styles.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

To learn more about the artist:

 

Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Ladylike Artist: Tamara de Lempicka…

Portrait of Tamara De Lempicka, Unknown.

F.Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors, the way he wrote about the 1920s has always captivated me, sparked my imagination in a way few authors have. I always find myself drifting back to his books to re-read his stories that are now like familiar old friends. The 1920s… the elegance, the sparkle. I imagine an era where everyone and everything was polished and elegant while jazz music always played in the background and a glass of champagne was always in everyone’s hand. Basically as if everyone was living in a highly stylized hollywood movie. It is probably why I enjoy Tamara de Lempicka’s work so much from this era. Her work is exactly what I think the world must have looked like in the 1920s.

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Tamara de Lempicka, Self Portrait in the Green Bugatti. 1925

Even reading about her life, every aspect of it had an element of glamour and high society sophistication that I wonder if she could have painted in any other way. Every photo I found of her she looks like an actress who walked off a movie set.  She is stunning and so are her portraits. She manages to turn her models into highly stylized objects while making the viewer believe it is because that is exactly how they looked in real life. There is evidence in her work that this gal knew her art, making subtle references in her work to past master’s or the current art styles that defined the times while presenting them in her own way. She wasn’t just a high society girl playing around with some paint.  She has become an influence in her own right, most notably in the commercial world for Madonna’s Vogue music video which not only shows Lempicka’s paintings in the opening scenes but is shot with the sharp contrasting light found in all of her paintings. Even the dancers and models in the video look like Lempicka portraits came to life.

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Tamara de Lempicka, Spring. 1930

I know like the characters in most of Fitzgerald’s stories, behind the beautifully polished pretense things are troubled and messy but everything is just so beautiful I don’t care. Occasionally it’s nice to indulge in the beauty of it all and ignore the messy stuff.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

Where to learn more:

Artist’s Website

The Art Story

Madonna Vogue Music Video

Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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An Artist with a Baby…

  A little over a year and a half ago I began research for my Art History Minor thesis. I wanted to look at how society’s pressure on women to become mothers effected women artists. Because it needed to be historical I added ‘and how/if it’s changed over time as society’s expectations of women have changed.’ I began scrolling through page after page of women artist’s wikipedia pages. I know wikipedia isn’t an up standing academic source but I needed to answer two questions very quickly about the artists I was considering for my paper; Did they have any children and when did they live. I had a long list of data that was eventually narrowed down to two women who were raised around the same time, with similar cultural expectations, whose lives led them down two different paths. Georgia O’Keefe, who had no children because her husband Alfred Steiglitz thought it would ruin her career, and Louise Bourgeois, a woman whose anxieties over not being able to conceive actually prevented her from conceiving a child until after she adopted her oldest son. I also included contemporary women artists like Sally Mann and Mary Kelly.

Around the same time Sheryl Sandberg was getting media attention for Lean In. As I was doing final edits, Michelle Obama was being criticized for calling herself Mom-In-Chief during a speech. It felt like everywhere I looked there were more facts, more things I wanted to talk about regarding women in art and mom’s in our society. But the paper had to be submitted and I had already exceed the minimum number of pages required. The semester ended and as my brain tried to shift gears to my second thesis paper for my major (which was on a completely different topic because I never thought to carry on my research and tie it into my studio practice) I found out I was pregnant. I was going to be facing my own challenges of balancing mom and artist. And all that research I had done just made the whole thing even more intimidating.

I remember during a visiting artist talk with a woman who refered to herself as a ‘stay at home mom who is lucky enough to have a studio practice too’, I had asked her how she balanced being both mother and artist. She told me to establish my career first and then pursue being a mom. It wasn’t the response I was expecting. Most artists can’t claim an established career until they are 40, a little late in the baby making game for a girl that wants a few kids. And at 27, the idea of waiting another 13years to have children seemed crazy. No longer are women told that they shouldn’t assure their failure as an artist by having children in art school, but there is still a very real idea spread around that regardless of your gender, kids just get in the way.  I returned to my research notes, I looked everywhere for glimpses of how mom artists were making it work. I read books, watched documentaries, and talked to anyone that would answer my questions. I walked away fearful that for most the pursuit of being a mom and artist simultaneously meant sacrificing their husbands. I really like my husband. I didnt want him to be the price I had to pay for an art career. Other women who seemed to have happy marriages seemed to have had a career established before having children. I was planning on walking across a stage to receive my diploma 5 months pregnant with no established art career other than obtaining a Bachelor of Art Degree with a Minor in Art History. It didnt feel promising.

I had visions of sharing my own experiences. Being open about how I was going to manage my studio practice once my little one arrived. Telling stories of how I gently rocked her with one arm while making brilliant art with the other. I would stay up late to get in studio time if need be and I would look back fondly on it all with a knowing smile.

And then she was born.

This little creature consumed every second of my life. With trying to heal, feed her, change diapers, and getting thrown up on without sleeping for more then two hours at a time there was no time for anything else. And that was with help! Any functioning brain cells were occupied with taking care of my little one. 

Even when I did find time for things, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share anything about what was going on. It all felt to personal and private to share. Despite my own frustration at how very little was said about finding studio time with a little one, I was unsure if I wanted to say anything on the topic. But being a mom has become such an all consuming part of my life, that if I make it off limits I dont know that I will have anything else of any real value to say.

I have started slowly, feeling like I have enough of a handle on taking care of my little one that I could slowly add something else to my plate. Reading Art + Fear during feedings was a great inspiration to get up the courage to get moving. I also started reading an Artists Guide, taking time to journal. I probably spent a month putting things in perspective so I would know what I was working towards. I found a grant and applied. Having to write out what I intended to use the grant money for was an awesome way to shape my intentions. It got the ball rolling. I wanted to be the artist I was talking about in my proposal.

Having spent time journaling and planning allowed me to mentally plan for the lack of time I would have for my studio practice while I prepared to move my family from Maine to Maryland. I knew it could potentially throw off the momentum I was building, but by scheduling it in and having a plan for what the studio practice looked like before, during, and after the move made the event a stepping stone in the grand scheme of things instead of a road block to intimidate me.

I came to the close on our second week in our new place and I finished carving out a space to work. I even found a little time to work. It has only been about 35minutes of hands on studio time but it was a glorious 35minutes. Some weeks that number will increase, and other weeks the number of minutes will get even smaller. But I am working and that is all that matters right now.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

I included links for the books I mentioned in my post but check to see if your local bookstore has them first.

Mary Kelly

Sally Mann

Georgia O’Keefe

Louise Bourgeios 

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