The final episode of The Story of Women and Art, written and presented by Professor Amanda Vickery, was broadcast on BBC 2 tonight and it has been a really fascinating three-part series. Exploring not just painted art but other creative crafts by female artists who have a significant story to tell.
In the first episode I was really surprised that there are works by female artists in store rather than on display. The presenter discusses this issue more in this article on the Guardian website.
Working on this project, I very much rely on curators of art galleries and art critics to point out the things that I should discover. Unlike a full-time art or art history student, I can’t dedicate a large proportion of my time to exploring what is out there. I have to trust others to guide me on what is worth spending time on. The job of art galleries and art critics is to navigate a path for those of us who are less well informed about what work there is.
So it is disappointing to discover that a large majority of art galleries in the UK have a higher ratio of work on display created by men than women. And why is this important? There is a real danger of a one-sided view if most of the visual art around us is from a male perspective. I also wonder how much influence this has on the few female artists who do succeed, whether the work they create panders consciously or subconsciously to the male norm. For me, the most interesting art challenges my own views and seeing the world from a female perspective is no bad thing.
This series has also given me a greater appreciation of some of the historic works of art on display. In one episode there was a discussion between the presenter and a curator from the National Portrait Gallery on the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer. This artist had to endure gossip and innuendo about her personal life in what could be argued was a way to discredit her talent.
You would hope that leaping forward to today things have changed for the better. It is sad to read that some of the online criticism about this series is directed at Professor Amanda Vickery. Clothing choices and presenting style have very little to do with the amount of research needed to create these programmes. If an intelligent woman promoting the work of undervalued female creative talent is rattling the cage of people who disagree with her, then I say Professor Amanda Vickery is probably on the right track and should keep going.
I do hope that the BBC commissions a further series of programmes. The artists featured in this set of programmes are just a drop in the ocean. And if they don’t, I hope Sky Arts or another TV channel can see what potential there is.