By: Morgan Watters
Did you know that 87 percent of the artwork in museums across the United States has been created by men? This may come as a shock to some. Surely, we have made more progress in equality between men and women in the arts. However, any progress that has been made has been fairly recent.
In the past, women were not allowed to attend school, let alone art schools. If they did paint, they had to learn from their fathers or have been wealthy enough to pick it up as a hobby. Once women were allowed in art schools, they were treated as second class students with limited opportunity.
For example, women were not allowed to study the human figure until the 1800s, which seems ridiculous now, considering that their own nude bodies were often a central theme in art.
To get a more personal insight, I spoke with Natasha Somerville, professor of drawing and painting at IU South Bend.
Q: What are your thoughts on the underrepresentation of women in the arts based on your personal experience as a Black woman?
Professor Somerville: “Education-wise as a student, I would say it was a long time before I saw any minority artist. You see your ancient and interesting classical works, but if you were lucky, the Harlem Renaissance was all you really saw. Even then, that was such a short period of time in history.
“And so, it wasn’t until I became an educator that I made it a mission of mine to show lots of diversity to my students. We love Da Vinci and Michelangelo and Carravagio, but there are fascinating things that were happening in the Middle East at the same time. I’m a big fan of Pre-Columbian art. Or the things that are happening currently with trying to highlight diversity in the arts. That is something I am very passionate about because I never saw it as a student.
“As an artist, I feel as if it has gotten better. There has been a rise of galleries over the past couple of years that I think focus on having a mission of showing minority artists, so that has been helpful, but I still think there is a ways to go.
“It has been encouraging to see galleries focus on trying to show more women and minorities. The stats you just gave me further reflect that we are still primarily showing men and men of an Anglo-Saxon descent. I have hope that it will get better. I think people are asking for more now and expecting more, which is making people shift their mindset from what has been the norm for years.”