When I studied art in college, it seemed that almost all famous painters were men. So were most art instructors. Men were the top curators, authors, and publishers of art magazines. It left me wondering what happened to the women painters. Were they just not as good as men? Did they not know how to market themselves? Were they not as ambitious, aggressive, talented...? That all seemed unlikely, and yet if I looked at any other field, the same seemed to hold true. Much has been written about the socio economic forces of male dominance in any profession, and the art world has been no exception.
Yet when I look around me now, something seems to have shifted. The art world is full of phenomenal women painters. And many of them thrive in the field of Plein Air painting. They win top awards, teach workshops, have huge followings, get published, judge major shows....
What is it about this movement that brings women painters out in droves to events, and has brought women front and center? Here are some of answers I have found, not necessarily in order of importance. Feel free to add your own.
1. Women are social. Although just as competitive as men, many women thrive when painting in the company of others. They like the camaraderie of shared experience.
2. Safety in numbers. Face it. Painting alone outdoors can be dangerous. Painting in pairs or groups is much safer. And then there is.....peeing! To be hones, male equipment is just different. It is easier for men: in a few discreet seconds, they can take care of this inconvenience. But women often have to trek somewhere, and leave their stuff behind, or have to pack it all up. It is very good when a buddy can watch your gear for you while you take care of business.
3. Women are the equals of men in the field! Is there any other work where women are not judged by their looks, at least as a part of their overall success? In any endeavor, there are always comments that indicate that the personal appearance of a woman is at least one significant component of her commercial success, regardless of her competence. EXCEPT IN PLEIN AIR PAINTING! If you look around any Plein Air event, you will notice that women painters are absolutely focused on the task at hand, and NOT their appearance. Vanity on the field is just not a factor. We wear funny hats, paint in stained clothing, oversize coats, or layers of unflattering clothes and comfy shoes. We get dirty, sweaty, and paint stained. Who cares what we look like? We are here to paint!
4. The equipment has gotten smaller and lighter. We can now fit easels in backpacks, making hiking to rugged places accessible to women who are not super athletes. Roller bags allow us to lug our stuff through streets when parking is far. We no longer have to be fit, or young, to satisfy our desire to paint outside, whether in a city, mountain, beach, lake or forest.
5. Women love to be outdoors! Yes we do. And we love to be active. Plein Air painting gives us the opportunity ( and the excuse) to spend time outside, in all kinds of weather.
6. The results. Any paint-out, festival, competition or show proves that the finished paintings stand on their own merits, without regard of the gender of the artist who painted them.
7. Size does not matter! We women have been trying to convince men of this for years...but I am digressing.....Kidding aside, the size of the finished painting can be equally stunning whether it is an 8x10, or a 20 x24. So many beautiful paintings are stunning little jewels.