For young women artists

We all know that sexism (and racism while we’re at it) are rampant in the world.  Our sisters in other countries must endure genital mutilation, forced marriage, slavery and honor killings among other atrocities. It follows that sexism  also exist in my field, albeit in a more subtle yet pervasive manner.  I’ve witnessed and endured a number of incidences of sexism. I choose not to dwell on them.
The larger picture is that we in the first world have all won the lottery. We are able to experience vast riches and extraordinary privileges.
We should all remember how fortunate we are to have been born so lucky.
After reaching the ripe old age of 53 my message to young women is as follows:
Know that your voice is just as valuable as anyone else’s. Celebrate your uniqueness. If someone treats you in a manner that’s less than respectful, ignore them. The problem is theirs not yours. Help others. Create networks of people who support you. Be kind to people. And make art!  Then make more art!

I found an interview I gave with Ann Telford a while ago. The subject was women in the illustration field. Here it is:

I wrote:

I always feel ambivalence about contributing to womens’ shows or womens’ articles. I’m not sure that being gender exclusive is counter-productive or not. And it’s so easy to make generalizations based upon personal experience, I’m unclear as to whether or not focusing on a certain group of artists is useful or not. I’ve been asked many times by students whether or not being female has impacted my career in any way, and I have to answer that I don’t have personal experience any other way so I simply don’t know! Certainly there is much racism and sexism in the world and it follows that there would be some in this industry. To think otherwise is naive. However this industry is a meritocracy.  At best, it shouldn’t make any difference if an artist is male, female, gay, straight, black, white or green. What should ultimately matter is the quality of the work and the professionalism the artists displays.
I have noted with some amusement in the past that somehow when people focus on gender it seems to them to be more harmless that when focusing on race or religion. I’ve been often told things like “We need you as a speaker because we haven’t had any women yet this year” or “you’re a really good woman artist”. Imagine substituting the word “woman” for “black” or “Jew”. It simply wouldn’t happen.
I’ve also been asked whether or not I make as much money as a man does, and again my answer is that I don’t know. It seemed to me in the past that I was in fact making less than some of my male peers, but I also noted that they were in fact ASKING for more, where I was not. Gender trait? I don’t know.
And now to Ann’s questions:

1.How long have you been working? How did you get into the illustration
field?

Yikes! Thirty years! And I became an illustrator because I adored my uncle who was an illustrator (he passed away when I was thirteen and gave me my first set of watercolors, Pelikan brand. I still use that brand today). He illustrated children’s books, high school textbooks, maps, slides, and other educational material. In fact his motto was ‘Art for Education” So it wasn’t new to me to think of art in a larger context…or that art could be useful in some way other than being simply decorative.

2.What marked changes have you seen in the illustration field since
you’ve been working?

Too many to mention. In the time I’ve been working I believe we have all witnessed the most important paradigm shift since the Industrial Age…that is, the advent of the Information Age, and that changes everything! Also, in the past recent years, it seems as though there has been another shift, this one having to do with how the media reports information. In short, what I believe has happened is the corporatization of the media. Some artists have tried how to fight how that corporatization affects us regarding our intellectual property (copyright) but I’m equally concerned about how it affects the content of the news…ie the nature of the information we receive and whether in fact journalism is more biased than it’s ever been toward corporate interests.

3.What drew you to the illustration field? Did you have any female
mentors? Whose work inspired you most?

What drew me to the illustration field is the notion that I would have voice in the world…and to me a visual voice is as important as any other. I recently read an article that attempts to explain human behavior and how, even given scientific data, our brains can reject information that might not correspond to the existing template of what we believe…this is all fascinating to me. The study of politics, human behavior, this is why I became an illustrator. My language just happens to be a visual one.

4. Given the sensitive nature of so many of today’s news stories, do you
see women having an advantage in covering that type of subject matter?

You know, this is that part where I feel that it’s possible to make gross generalizations. I don’t believe that women are essentially any more sensitive than men. There is no doubt that there are striking differences between the sexes, but I’d hate to think that any person might be better or worse at something than someone else simply based upon gender.

5. What would be your ideal assignment?

LOTS OF CREATIVE FREEDOM.
And an interesting subject.

6.What advice would you give to young women illustrators just starting to work today? Are there any whose work you admire?How do you think things are different for them?

I would tell them that they should never ever think that their voices are anything other than precious, and that they have every right to voice their opinions. We are lucky to be living in a democracy..we aren’t veiled or subjugated, or subject o humiliating surgeries as our sister in other places.
Again I don’t want to be gender specific but I do have some favorite young female artists…definitely Jillian Temaki, Fernanda Cohen, Julia Breckenreid, Yuko Shimizo, Tamara Shopsin…and so many others!

7. Who do you consider your peers?

I don’t know…I guess that’s up to the art directors!

8. Do you feel more competitive with your male peers, or the same as with your female peers?

No. again, substitute any other group. I don’t feel terribly competitive. I believe we all have unique voices and we have wonderful opportunities to voice them in print.

9. If you attended ICON (either in San Francisco, or in Philly or Santa
Fe), what did you take away from the conference? How will it affect
your business?

Gee. I don’t know what to say. I don’t even feel as though I attended any of the conferences!!! Because I was one of the board members, I helped put the conferences together and I was always running around trying to make people comfortable or trying to find cords or something…I feel as though I didn’t even attend! But I hope they were a success to those who attended.

10. What do you think the future holds for editorial and advertising
illustration? Do you see new avenues developing for illustration?

I really don’t know. If one looks at the bigger picture, we can always understand a culture by the arts produced in that culture, so I know  that the arts always prevail in some form or other…As far as illustration goes, I have lots of concerns, but I’m ultimately an optimist.
And regarding the new avenues, yes certainly there are new avenues in areas such as movies gaming, etc. But I’m certainly not any kind of an expert in that area.

2 Responses to “For young women artists”

  1. Rami Says:

    Thank you lovely Anita for this post. It is true I think, that in our position of privilege in The West, even if we face disadvantages as women or along ethnic lines, we are so still able to do so much, and so much more!

  2. Giselle Silvestri Says:

    I love your post. Everything you said is so true.
    I am a 49 year old artist who has also experienced sexism during my life, but after just watching a documentary on the orphanages in China that are filled with unwanted little baby girls, it puts my experiences into perspective. I am very lucky to have been born in Canada!

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