PleinAir Magazine


Roughly half of today’s visual artists are female, but women remain grossly underrepresented in museums, galleries, teaching positions, and at award ceremony podiums. To highlight this issue, the National Museum of Women in the Arts revived its #5WomenArtists social media campaign, challenging users to name five female artists off the top of their heads, as part of its annual celebration of Women’s History Month in March. Most found it impossible.

Why? Artist and professor Joan Semmel has an idea. “If there are no great celebrated women artists, that’s because the powers that be have not been celebrating them, not because they are not there.” I was fortunate recently to talk to seven prominent artists — Suzie Baker, Jane Hunt, Shelby Keefe, Brienne Brown, Brenda Boylan, Lyn Boyer, and Kim VanDerHoek. They spoke freely about the unique rewards and challenges of being a woman in plein air, and offered their best advice for all who want to see greater equality in the arts.

Kelly Kane: A question often asked of working women in any field, but rarely of men, relates to the balance of work and home life — and the guilt that often accompanies that juggling act. But because you all identified it as your number one concern, let’s start there.

Suzie Baker: The best art supply you can have is a supportive spouse or partner, and I have an amazing one. Andy and I have been married for 25 years. Our kids are 22 and 20, and both in college. They are in the needyou-don’t-need-you stage of life. I started leaning into my painting about 10 years ago, and my career started to build momentum right about the time the kids were gaining more trustworthy autonomy. I tell them that you never marry thinking you are going to change your partner, but you can love and support them into being the best possible version of themselves. Andy has done that for me and rejoices in my accomplishments. He doesn’t complain about taking a vacation and joining me at Plein Air Maui or Grand Canyon Celebration of the Arts, either.

In relationship to feelings of guilt about ourselves as mothers or caregivers, I recognize that much of that guilt comes from the expectations of others and long-established societal norms. Historic gender roles have changed and are changing. I bet my dad never changed a diaper, but my husband sure did, and while I stay home for a time when my children were small, I have male friends who did the same, long before it was at all common. Artists Paul Kratter and Jim Wodark are a few of those Super Dads. They did what worked for their families. There are lots of healthy ways to parent and meet the needs of those around you while also meeting your own needs and professional goals. That’s not to say that some times aren’t more challenging on a career (and our sanity) within the seasons of family life. The small years and the years of our parents’ failing and our own inevitable decline are some of the hardest. Still, I love watching those moms

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