Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Can You Name 5 Female Artists?"

This is one of the opening lines of the trailer to the documentary, Who Does She Think She Is?, by filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll featuring five women artists who refuse to choose between the life of being an artist or being a mother, wife, and all-around family-nuturing-person. I saw the movie a couple of months ago on PBS quite by accident around the time I was talking to a friend about the challenges of being a female artist and trying to do other things in one's life. One of the opening lines in the trailer is the question (above in this blog post title) posed by an interviewer asking groups of people, some in front of what looks like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Generally, not one person can give the names of five women artists. Some people try and they end up either giggling in astonishment for not being able to come up with names in a snappy fashion or nonchalantly admit that they just can't think of any.

I liked the movie because it really demonstrates the challenges of being a woman and an artist. That the filmmaker focused on women who are mothers trying to raise families AND make art seemed a bit of an oversight for me since many of us (me included here) never had families and kids to raise because we, maybe unfortunately, chose. Nonetheless, the film does a great job depicting the complex lives of the featured women-artists who have both successfully (and unsuccessfully) balanced the needs of their families against their own needs as artists, and within the roles of women they've chosen to live -- mothers in all cases, and wives.

What struck me, as presented in a booming-sort of voice by a male spokesperson at the very beginning of the trailer, is that Ameila Earhart, Edith Head, Janis Joplin, Georgia O'Keefe, Emily Dickinson, Tallulah Bankhead, Edith Horton, and Eudora Welty, were lumped together as women artists who never had children. I would have never thought to put them in a group like that and there are surely others.....Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago, to add to the list.

As an entry to the overall concept of the movie, this is a stark way to illustrate the various choices women-artists make.

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