As this issue’s Historic Masters article reveals, it was never easy being a female artist. Until the 1960s, society expected most women who were trained professionally in the visual arts to teach, rather than to exhibit actively. Those who did successfully pursue a public career often started out with an independent income or privileged access to the system. Even today, when more women than ever earn a living through art, the system remains skewed. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. — which has done a great deal of good since opening in 1987 — an impressive 51 percent of American visual artists are women, yet only 5 percent of the artworks on view in this country’s museums were made by women.
How can this be? The (several) answers to this important question are complex and reach right back to the days
when women could not obtain training or even supplies. Yet this skewed situation also implicates us as museum and gallery visitors, no less than the curators and dealers who serve us. For example, if “average” art lovers were asked if they would prefer to see a masterpiece by John Singer Sargent or one by Mary Cassatt — both great artists who flourished around the same time — most would probably request Sargent, regardless of gender. It’s unlikely that exact question would ever be posed, but you get the idea. Try multiplying that likelihood by the disproportionate number of male talents who flourished in historical periods when women could not (e.g., Leonardo, Rubens, Picasso), and you have an inkling of the problem’s scale.
In this photo spread, therefore, we aim to celebrate the quality and diversity of artworks being made by women
nationwide today. It would be impossible to salute all of them, so we have narrowed our focus to images of other
women. (And to prove we mean no ill to Mary Cassatt, we are honored to include her here, too.) Fortunately, organizations and institutions of all kinds are now busy training, encouraging, and exhibiting women artists. We look forward to enjoying even more of their artistry in the months and years ahead.