CREATIVITY UNDER SEIGE: WOMEN ARTISTS AND IDENTITY FORMATION

" Art is a system of knowledge about oneself and the world at large that is as valuable to human kind as philosophy or science. In all of their creative endeavors, artists are trying to tell us something about the universe, something about human nature and something about themselves "

--Herbert Read, 1963

 To be a woman and an artist in a male dominated, scientifically oriented society can be a difficult task. Women artists now live in a culture in which the relationship to their world is rendered problematic, where the world requires that they bargain with life for their identities. Not only are the arts continuing to be portrayed as dispensable luxuries that must prove their worth in an impersonal mass market, an increasing number of schools are opting to eradicate the arts and extracurricular activities in order to focus instead on what a scientific and technologically oriented culture views as society's major priorities.

Perhaps the most problematic task facing women artists today involves the formation of identity , for it is in this realm that a woman bases her sense of herself as well as her vision of the structure of her life . Because of the high value western society has placed on objectivity and rationalism, women artists and more subjective modes of thought and knowing have had relatively little impact on the values and directions of modern day society (Ruddick 1980). The culturally constructed either/or binary which portrays the artist as subjective, hermeneutic and irrational and the scientist as objective, removed and rational has not only led to a hierarchical portrayal of  science as "better than" or "more valuable" than the arts, it has perpetuated and justified the marginalization of the arts and artists.

An analysis of the history of women and art illustrates just how prevalent the exclusion of women from artistic endeavors and notoriety has been, which reflects an ideological orientation that excludes the acceptance of a perspective revealed by women artists as "real" and "valid."  Not only have women artists been marginalized and defined as different, they have had to work within codes of representation dominated and controlled by men who have invalidated and debased their role within society, resulting in a crisis of purpose, vision and a sense of self (Messkimmon, 1996; Nochlin, 1973).However, very recently women artists have begun to engage in the tedious work of redefining their own position in society--on their own terms. They are challenging the concepts of dominant culture and those perceived as "marginal" and are attempting to redefine their role as women artists.

Because of the feminist movement and the recent upsurge of the postmodern movement, some women artists have been able to come to grips with the patriarchal and scientific ideological foundations that have justified and perpetuated the subjugation of women's voices in art and the society at large. They are working toward exposing a history of tyranny in which patriarchy, power, knowledge, and discourse have all been linked together, creating a complex system of justification and perpetuation of domination and inequality in the arts.

An excerpt from my Thesis Research: Women Artists And Identity Formation

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