Tag Archives: women artists

Ladylike Artist: Agnes Martin


Alexander Liberman, Agnes in her studio. 1960

It was in an attempt to escape the crowds at MoMA that I came across Agnes Martin’s work. I saw a gallery in the back with no one in it, and like a moth to a flame I was drawn to it’s promise of isolation. In the calm emptiness, in almost silence, I looked at her minimalist canvases hanging before me and was able to let out the deep breath I didn’t realize I was holding in.

If I had not seen her work in person, I don’t know that I would have spent any time considering it. It’s hard to understand their meditative calmness looking at the small scale reproduction on your screen. Hard to perceive the slight changes in the colored stripes floating across the canvas like you can when the painting is in front of you, filling your peripheral. Some things you just need to see in person to fully appreciate them and I would argue that her work is a part of that category of things.

I found it as no surprise reading more about her and her work that she was inspired by buddhism and what she called the ‘abstract glories of being’; happiness, joy, beauty, and innocence. The evidence of that influence is obvious when you encounter her work. The impact of experiencing her paintings that day at MoMA did not really hit me until a week later when I found myself staring out at the clear evening sky, mindlessly waiting for the dogs to come back in, when I realized the subtle bars of color lowering themselves over the horizon were an Agnes Martin painting come to life.


Happy Holiday 1999 by Agnes Martin 1912-2004

Agnes Martin, Happy Holidays. 1999


Agnes Martin, Untitled #5. 1998

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: Georgia O’Keeffe…

Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait, 1918.

Georgia O’Keeffe was a master painter and leader in the American Modernism movement. A heavy weight in American Art History, there is no shortage on resources about this artist. I personally have come to love her work, but am often frustrated reading about her work and her life. How much of what we believe about an artist’s work is the creation of art critics and historians with no real basis in what the artist was trying to portray? Does it matter what the artist’s intention was or what the public takes away from it? Do we have the right as the viewer to say, ‘I know she, the artist and creator, says that’s not what the work represents but it definitely does!” Where is the line between what an individual takes away from the work and how what is taken away is shaped by what others say about the work?

Work by Georgia O'Keeffe at 291 Gallery

“But, Stieglitz, all these pictures say is ‘I want to have a baby,’” – Willard H. Wright, critic

The work in her early shows at the famed 291 gallery ran by her future husband, Alfred Stieglitz, was criticized for being too obvious in her desire to have children and too feminine. Whether it was an actual critique of the work or art critic friends of Stieglitz trying to warn him about the budding love affair with O’Keeffe, who knows.

Later in her career, the feminist movement artists held up her large floral paintings as their influence and inspiration for their more direct interpretation of the female anatomy. Despite O’Keeffe denying for six decades that her large floral paintings had anything to do with the human form, many give her credit for being the first to be bold enough to portray female sex organs as the main subject of their work. I can’t think of a single art professor who talked about her work during my own time at art school without referring to her ‘thinly veiled portraits’ of female anatomy. As if O’Keeffe was trying to trick us all.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Abstraction. 1927

My favorite piece by the artist.

Maybe it’s the whole idea that as long as they are talking about your work, it doesn’t matter what they say. That as an artist, we lose the power to control it’s interpretation as soon as we allow the work to be viewed. That once that happens, it is no longer ours to manipulate and now at the mercy of the public’s gaze. For O’Keeffe, in many ways it didn’t matter. She had her struggles with making art but it was something she continue to do up until her death at the age of 98.

“Someone else’s vision will never be as good as your own vision of your self.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

As always, thanks for reading.



Where to learn more:

Brooklyn Museum

O’Keeffe Museum, About

The Art Story

Portrait of An Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe

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: Louise Bourgeois…

Louise Bourgeois 1982, printed 1991 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

There are thousands of reasons to crush on artist Louise Bourgeois. She has earned a place among the greatest artists with work currently being exhibited all over the world. She made work that was raw, emotional, and vulnerable. Work that so many, especially women, can relate too.

Louise Bourgeois. Femme Maison. 1947. MoMA

It wasn’t until I had seen her series Femme Maison that I was captivated by her. Translated to mean Woman House or House Wife, I was blown away by the simple genius of it. As a 25yr old recently married woman, contemplating what my new title of ‘Mrs.’ meant as I was still struggling to find my own identity, these images encapsulated all of the confusion and struggles I felt so effortlessly. To take this complex and conflicting internal emotional battle and simplify it to it’s most literal basic form… it was a moment that altered how I saw art and it’s power to evoke emotion.

The more I have learned about her over the years the more I find myself relating to her struggles as a woman, a wife, a mom, a human being that exists on this planet.  I find a comfort in her work. She is vulnerable in her interviews and in her work in a way I am often too afraid to be with myself.

When asked about her work she has been quoted as saying:

“The subject of pain is the business I am in. To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. The existence of pain cannot be denied. I propose no remedies or excuses.”

In December I had the opportunity to go to MoMA to see the current exhibition there of her work, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait. It was incredible to see some of her work in person, especially prints from Femme Maison. It’s one thing to see the work in a book or online, but in person you experience the subtle tactility of the art work that can not be experienced in any other way. When I left I was even more inspired by her and her artwork.

As always, thanks for reading.



Where to Learn More about the Artist:

How To See The Artist with MoMA Chief Curator Emerita Deborah Wye

Art21: Louise Bourgeois



Louise Bourgeois, Influential Sculptor, Dies at 98

Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress, and The Tangerine

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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L7 Weenie…


Made by the talented Spencer Simmons. 

There is this glorious period of time that exists between the moment you tell someone you can do something and the moment you actually have to step up and do it. It’s also super stressful.

Sometimes it is reveled that I am an artist of sorts, that I graduated from art school with a degree in woodworking and furniture design, that I studied photography, and that I am in the process of setting up a studio in my home.

Sometimes I talk way to much.

And they believe me. Just saying that I went to school for photography and woodworking makes me a great photographer and woodworker in their mind. Or at least one that is more than adequate. The conversation often will include a comment about how they would love to see my work or how they would love if I would do something art related for them.  I hope they never see my work and forget that I ever said anything.

Because until they see my work or give me a task to complete they just go off my word and they believe that I am more than an adequate artist. Once they see my work they may realize that although I call myself an artist I am far from one. Or if I help them with their art crisis I may fall short causing them to realize I am no artist at all, just someone with a lot of art making stuff and a misguided notion that they can do anything useful with it. I don’t know what their expectations are but I do know that I wont be able to live up to them.

I still haven’t convinced myself that I am an artist/woodworker/photographer or figured out what those words even mean or what it even looks like to be an artist/woodworker/photographer. It all starts to lead into this whole existential dilemma that makes me want to say FORGET IT. (Okay it makes me want to say a different  word that has four letters that also starts with the letter f but my in-laws, parents, and sweet people that might not appreciate such vulgarity might be reading this so I edited it.) 

And so I make excuses. I don’t have time, I have my daughter to take care of, my space isnt completely set up to work in yet, I don’t have the right tools, it’s too cold outside while also being too hot, the lighting is off, I ate to much or too little for dinner, I needed to check facebook every 5minutes, I don’t know how to use the equipment in my woodshop, the local lumberyard doesnt have the right wood that I like to use, I was going to work on it tomorrow, my nose itches, I’m probably getting sick so I should just curl up in bed with a book because I do not read as much as I would like, I am to tired and need to just go to bed, i’m just going to go to bed instead because that’s easier and no one will judge me while I sleep for not sleeping good enough.

This past christmas I got a christmas gift that called me on my shit. This gift was so good it called me out right in my excuse making face. To be fair the gift giver had no idea they were calling me out, they thought they were making me a nice gift. And it was a super nice gift. My sister-in-law’s husband made me a wooden beer carrier. He had seen it online, thought it was cool, and figured out how to make it with supplies he got at home depot in his basement where he is not hiding a state of the art wood shop as far as I know.

He thought I would like it so he figured out how to make it. The end.

If it was me I would have spent three months talking myself out of making it for any number of reasons that were not actual reasons based in any sort of reality, and then I would have just bought something while feeling blue about how little time I have to make art and the growing number of projects that I know I will never get too. It is so stupid but I have the hardest time changing my thinking.

But I have to. It has to change because until it does I am just going to be a wanna-be artist that is too much of an L7 weenie to do anything about it.


As always, thanks for reading.





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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.


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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