Wednesday, July 22, 2015


 3D Photomontage   16"x13"x4"
Way back when I first started this blog (Post #5), I wrote about why I would never marry another artist. Some protective instinct always warned me to stay away from them; the successful ones were generally drunks and womanizers, but at least you got decent alimony when they left. The unsuccessful ones were even worse because you had to work at some job you hated so they’d be free to create.

All of this came to mind the other day when I read the recent NYTimes Magazine feature article about Robert Frank, the photographer (7/5/15.)  Twelve pages extolling his genius and contribution to modern photography, with barely a mention of his artist wives (past and present) and how damn good they had been. Until I read the article, I hadn’t realized that he had been married to two women who were prominent in the 1950s and whose work I greatly admired. They had dropped off the radar screen and I hadn’t seen their names mentioned in decades. Even now they were mentioned only as wife/former wife of Robert Frank, the famous photographer; their importance at the time he married them not relevant.

When I was a young art student, I knew of many artist couples, but in no case was the wife more successful than the husband, regardless of talent. And the longer the marriage went on, the greater the disparity. It seemed to me that to do more than “kitchen” art, you needed to ditch the man (and the children as well.) Louise Nevelson was a case in point; she was smart enough to look for nurturing women to take care of HER.  Alice Neel, one of the few serious women painters I knew, didn’t abandon her children, but required a succession of loser lovers to keep her and her sons housed and fed.

 3D Photomontage   16"x13"x4"
In true feminist fashion, I’d like to claim victim-hood for women artists, oppression by the male-dominated art world, but it’s not that simple. In my experience, this has been a route women usually chose, not have foisted upon them. Rather than a failure of nerve on their part, it’s a tribute to their “human-ness,” their capacity to put the needs of others above self. Sure, it’s great to be considered a GENIUS and have the Times devote twelve pages to you, but is it worth sacrificing your family, or not having a family, to do it? When Robert Frank won the Guggenheim Prize and set off to do the seminal photographs that made his name, he left behind (freezing in the wilds of Nova Scotia) an artist wife and two children (one of whom later became schizophrenic.) Would any of my women artist friends have the “balls” to wander around the country leaving a spouse and children in this condition? No point in carrying excess baggage the geniuses always say. But that’s why you’ve never heard of his wives, Mary Frank or June Leaf, although they are now in their 80s (and still creating).

Is it society’s expectations or something in our genes that makes women nurturers, enablers? We may not be able to answer that question for many generations. I still have the fantasy, however, that at this late stage in my life, I might acquire an “enabler” of my own. I have to say though that I have run across a lot of terrific people who for $15-$20 an hour are willing to (temporarily) fill that role.

1 comment:

  1. June Leaf was a teacher of mine while I was at Parsons in NY during the late 60's and early 70's. She was exhibiting her work at that time in one of the big galleries on 57th St. Although her work was good and she was very prolific, I never thought it GREAT. She did not appear to be the type of woman who put anything or anyone before her work and I know that she didn't have any children. She may have been a better teacher than artist…I'm not sure but she was opinionated and had a strong presence …..I mostly agree with you about men vs. women when it comes to making sacrifices regarding family. However, it isn't only in the art profession that your scenario applies.