What can a small Texas town offer up for entertainment? One venue is Gallery Night in Haltom City. The event is sponsored by the local Art in the City committee and the Haltom City Library. Local artists and performers will be featured on Saturday, September 8, from 2pm to 8pm. That’s right – live artists, not merely television images, will project their creativity, without any broadcast filters, commercials, or graphic special effects, straight to the public’s senses.
Artist – when people are asked to name artists, the usual names are listed: Van Gogh, DaVinci, Picasso, Renoir, maybe Jackson Pollock or Robert Maplethorpe are mentioned. Strangely, no women artists. But with some prodding, the names drag out: Georgia O’Keefe, Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, maybe even Rachel Ruysch or Annie Leibowitz.
There could be dozens of reasons why most people confidently list male artists and then fumble when asked for names of women artists. Maybe because the culture still places primacy in the masculine and not the feminine? Such a cultural perception seems evident even with a quick Google search. Type in “famous artists” and see the results. The “Famous Artists Gallery” lists Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Andre Derain, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet . . . no women. Even the “Top references for famous artists” suggestions at the bottom of the page display all male names – no females. Only when the word “women” or “female” is added to the keywords do the results change. Apparently, there is an underlying assumption that women artists are so few and far between that they are mere subsets of the artist community. In fact, women are more often considered to be the subjects of the male artist (see how strange that division is when the word “male” is used to mark difference?), rather than artists in their own right. In this way, women have been objectified not only by the male artist’s gaze, but also by the viewer’s gaze. There is even a recent study that discovered people saw women “as body parts,” while men were perceived “as whole” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/07/26/men-women-bodies.html).
How does a society then, change its perception to seeing both females and males as “whole”? And understanding that the noun “artist” is gender-neutral? One way, perhaps, is to experience art in all its forms, and by many different people.
current president of the Trinity Arts Guild,
How did these women get their start in art? All three women became interested in color and drawing during their childhood. Locke remembers obsessively drawing horses “in elementary school”; Wood reckons she was 7 or 8 when she picked up Crayola watercolors and paper. “I wasn’t very much for drawing,” she says, “but take a Crayola and paint what I was seeing was great! I painted flowers, and thought it was beautiful.” Cahill remembers her interest started during elementary school, as well: “I was 7 or 8, too; I made a clay turtle, and dried it out in the sun. My dad encouraged us to draw and be artistic.”
These 3 women are wrapped in the identity of “artist.” Not “woman” or “female” artist, but quite firmly, “artist.” Locke believed she was an artist as she drew horses; an added factor, she says, was her older brother, “who was an amazing artist, and so it was natural to assume that I fell into the same category.” Wood states her mother “wanted me to take piano lessons, but if I saw someone painting, my hands would ache to do that.” Wood started considering herself an artist first in the 1960s, when one instructor, lecturing about art and the individual’s desires, told her audience that, “if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you will never go anywhere.” That statement, Wood says, “had a profound effect on me, and from that day on I never looked back. I’ve taken 83 workshops with instructors that I thought could help me further my career and desire.” The third artist, Cahill, laughs when she says, “I’ve painted for more than 20 years, but only got serious in the last 8 to 10 years. I still consider myself an amateur since I haven’t sold a lot.”
Although their childhood artistic proclivities are similar, the women use different mediums for their art. Locke paints acrylic on canvas, and that’s her “only medium.” Wood states she has worked with all mediums, but in 1980 she was introduced to watercolor; that introduction led her to Principles and Elements of Design, and changed the way she painted. “It’s no longer just picking up a tube of paint; you decide on a color scheme and stick to it,” she states. Cahill responds that she “used to be a hard-core, nothing-but-Oils-person,” but since she has started watercoloring classes, she is enjoying those. And, she has completed some “works in Acrylics, and loving that.” But Cahill doesn’t stop at those mediums. One of her friends got her “hooked on carving gourds. I enjoy the tactile nature and organic feel of working with the gourds,” she adds. History plays a part, as well, since Cahill thinks about how the gourd as an art medium “has been used for a very long time, both as a utilitarian and decorative vessel.”
Clearly, these artists enjoy what they create, and, given how long they have been perfecting their craft, they have produced many art pieces. Picking favorite pieces to display can be difficult, especially when an artist like Cahill thinks “that if an artist does not like their work, it is not finished. I like most all my work; I know to some it is not appealing, or it is amateurish, or it is not expressive enough, but that’s okay; I enjoy it.” And Wood likes “whatever I am working on at the present. I have been told I need to stick to one subject. That is boring to me. I love all forms of art – impressionist, abstract, and experimental.”
But even before the artists can pick pieces to display, they first consider whether the pieces are finished. Knowing when a piece of art is finished can be another difficult stage. For example, Locke reveals when she finishes a piece of art, she usually feels “a mix of relief, depression, and worry. It’s an odd combination, I know, but relief at being finished, depression as if I am at the end of an adventure, and worry that I have missed some detail and will find that detail a week later after the painting has sealed.” Cahill’s take is more optimistic – she “almost always” feels good when she finishes, “sometimes it’s because it just flowed out of me with every brush-stroke going where it belonged, or sometimes I feel good because it was so difficult, and I made it through and achieved what I had set out to do.” Wood’s art pieces are scrutinized yet again: “When I first think I am finished, I put it in a prominent place where I can view it from every direction; even turn it upside down. Sometimes after watercolors dry, they do need tweaking.”
Finally, the art pieces pass the artist’s inspection, and are deemed worthy of exhibiting or selling to others who are fascinated with art. Locke’s works are displayed in “various gift shops and coffee houses, though,” she adds, “I have displayed in galleries and salons as well.” Cahill admits she hasn’t yet exhibited her pieces, primarily because she enjoys creating her works more than working to establish them in a gallery. However, she is “planning on participating in the October Art in the City Art Festival,” which is held at the Haltom City Library as well as this September’s event. Wood’s pieces can be viewed at the Trinity Arts Guild, the Fort Worth Northeast Sub-Courthouse, the Bedford Library, the Euless Library, Fort Worth Public Library in downtown Fort Worth, and Terry’s Motors.
It’s possible, of course, that not everyone can come to the Haltom City’s Gallery Night and enjoy the local artists. That doesn’t mean people should never seek out art, for, as Cahill remarks, “art today is all around us. It is in everything from wallpaper to advertising . . . when you go on vacation, you should go to the local galleries. . . look for art competitions online to view newcomers’ works.” Locke suggests people look for art “in local coffee houses, cafes, and gift shops,” and Wood orders, “go to every local art show and sale. Local library, State Fairs, one-man shows, group exhibits. You never know when you will see some art that will open doors for you that will never close.”
Indeed. Art is an open door for imagination, and art “does not exist only to entertain, but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth” (Streisand). Of course, sometimes what the audience searches for is simply . . . another way of looking at the world.
Special thanks to Sheila Cahill, Bennie Johnson Wood, and Carola Locke for their art images and discussions. For more online art, try http://www.abcgallery.com, http://www.metmuseum.org/, http://www.nmwa.org/ (National Museum of Women in the Arts), and http://www.womanmade.org/ (Woman Made Gallery).