This post is dedicated to the older woman artist, the one who keep plugging away without recognition, but with dedication and joy. It looks like we’re finally in fashion, although I had better work fast. Trends come and go with increasing rapidity in the art world. At one time, you could count on being hot for several years, now it seems like only months and you’re a ‘has-been.’ A few years ago, if you were Black (preferably with street creds) you had it made; next was transgender, (the more convoluted the better), and now it looks like older women are in…..finally! However, by the time fame and fortune gets to me, it will be too late. I’ll be doddering in a nursing home or dead.
What started me thinking about the subject was an article I read in the NYTimes a couple of months ago about the sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, She was one of the few role models I had in the art world: a woman who had a fairly conventional life style, like mine, with a house, a husband and children. Maybe it could be done. Most of the successful women artists I knew of only had non-traditional relationships with men (or women) who supported them financially or physically The article didn’t mention, however, that Bourgeois’ husband, was a prominent art historian and critic with a wide range of connections in the art world. In addition, she didn’t live in the suburbs (the kiss of death in the art world for a man or a woman) They owned a town house on West 20th St. in NYC where they entertained frequently. After his death she acquired a huge loft space in a factory in Brooklyn along with an assistant! (what I would give for an assistant!), doing her best work and reaching her greatest prominence in later years when she was alone, - without having to make dinner for anyone. I “googled” a great quote from her: “I have been to hell and back and let me tell you, it was wonderful.” My kind of woman!
There’s another Louise whose work I admired: Louise Nevelson. She died in 1988, almost 90 years old. She too didn’t become prominent until later in life, but led a completely different life than Bourgeois, much more bohemian, leaving behind any semblance of domesticity for an artist’s life. She notoriously left her husband and parked her child with her parents so as to be free to create. Like Bourgeois, she didn’t achieve her major success until later in life with her marvelous giant installations, assemblages of “found” wood painted black.
While I admired her work – and the way she put herself together with three pairs of false eyelashes and floor length sable coats – she wasn’t much of a role model. I never had the kind of ego – or self centeredness - that would permit me - no matter how much I wanted to have a career as an artist - to abandon my family.
And still another Louise showed up in today’s NYTimes, one I had never heard of before, an Abstract Expressionist painter, Louise Fishman. She’s having her first major museum show at age 77, a retrospective at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, N.Y. “I’m 77 and I’m at the height of my powers” Ms. Fishman was quoted as saying. “How did this happen? As my grandmother would say, “Who knew?”
When my friend, the sculptor Reuben Nakian was asked how you become a famous artist, he replied, “You have to live long enough.” The question is “How long is long enough?”