There is an exhibition at the British Museum, Ice Age Art, Arrival of the Modern Mind. The exhibits, mostly sculpture from the very dawn of art 40,000 years ago fall mainly into two groups: realistic animals, and female figures. The former would appear to have been closely observed and carved by the hunters themselves; the latter, the females, are much more abstract, the hips disproportionally wide, the breasts overly pendulous.
What intrigues me is, who created these abstracted female figures, men or women? They are not erotic like so much of subsequent art of the nude, the message seems more talismanic. The exhibition has placed works by Picasso, Matisse, Moore, Mondrian (all men) alongside these ancient pieces, but this seems a red herring. The moderns were influenced stylistically by the stone age work they saw, but the message surely is completely different, as is possibly the sex of the authors – were some of the first artists women sitting in their caves and shelters waiting for their menfolk to return?
I ask this because female artists are not well represented in the arts of the last thousand years or so. I looked at the index of artists that have inspired me for the Belle, there is only one woman…… so far, Tamara Lempicka.
I did a straw poll yesterday in a café with the two men and two women sitting at the table next to me, complete strangers. With hardly any introduction, I said ‘please write down the names of as many painters as possible, you have a minute.’ They all had plenty of painters, but not one nominated a single woman. I gave them a further minute to come up with some female painters – a complete blank with all four.
I asked them to name writers; women did better, but were still in a minority. Composers as a category was a complete disaster for women.
Why is this? Could it be neurological? Hormonal? Has education been to blame? Men famously have their muses, do women? Well, Lempicka did, but the muse was a woman and Lempicka was bi-sexual. I have my own ideas on why women are less creative almost across the board, but I would be interested in hearing other views before I commit myself.
There seems to be precious little space in the modern mind for female art.