Gender Politics in Art-Making: On and Off Campus

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Arianna Webber '19

It is impossible to look at the history of art and not become inundated by the constant presence of the male gaze. Portrayals of women by men, and art created by male artists in general, is abundant in galleries and art museums, while art produced by women is still showcased rarely, and not for a lack of work being produced by women. 

The statistics on this are glaringly inequitable. According to ArtNews, from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of solo exhibitions for women was only 20% at the MOMA. Other museums follow this trend. The Guggenheim, the Whitney, MOCA LA, and LACMA also all showcase less than 40% of solo exhibitions for women. This disturbing inequity is further compounded by the fact that women receive half of the MFAs granted annually in the United States according to the NMWA. These numbers are extremely discouraging and shows the lack of progress that has been made in allowing for space for women in the arts. A bit of progress over the years isn’t good enough. And the bit of progress that has been made can’t be used to shut down conversations about the almost complete exclusion of women being represented in the fine arts world.

Bennington is not immune to gender discrepancies in our visual arts department. A survey conducted of 30 female VA students on campus revealed that there was not a single one who felt that there wasn’t a bias towards male students in class, especially during critiques. The majority agreed that they felt men in their classes often dominate conversations and receive more attention and recognition than their female peers. Many of those surveyed later answered that they felt that Bennington was much more progressive than other universities in terms of gender politics in the VA department. However in line with the other conclusions drawn from the survey, this just feels too inconsistent. A survey where 100% of the women surveyed felt there was a gender bias in both classroom and studio spaces exposes the lack of progression there actually is.

Bennington’s majority female student body does not equate a school that is without extreme forms of gender bias. It’s important to continue to open up conversations on this and figure out how we, as Bennington students, can actively curate intentional spaces where everyone is of equal importance and enabled to have the opportunities to showcase and share their work.