surrealist painting by Arabella Proffer

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing: IMMA GURL ARTIST HALP

I was talking to Paula, the bassist of one of my favorite current bands, September Girls. A drunken guest had just been thrown out of my husband’s book party for various reasons; mainly that at one point after expressing to guests he was a fan of September Girls, he walked up to two of them and said flatly, “you looked like shit on stage last time I saw you”.

Something as harsh as this wasn’t what they were used to, however, Paula said all too often they did indeed get male fans who would almost always say, “Hey your band is great! But, you know what you should do…” because OBVIOUSLY when you are an all-female group you must need help and unsolicited advise from a man. Never mind they are more successful and have a farther reach than many all-male bands in Ireland right now — they’re women in a band, hence they must not know what they are doing. Never mind women get marginalized and treated like fuck dolls, imbeciles, or little girls in the music industry no matter what — they need a man to manage them. They need a man to help them navigate because IMMA GURL HALP PLEEZ and they must be winging it up until now. They could do so much better if only they had some help. Right?

It must have been something I blocked out, or something I just got used to. Maybe I was trying to be polite or assumed they were dumb so I just kept my mouth shut instead of getting nasty about it? “Your work is great! But you know what you should do…” is something I have heard from a ridiculous number of men with regard to my art-making practices and anything to do with my career. I guess I really did just get used to it. In fact, this was how they made conversation. But, now that I’ve registered more women saying it happens to them, I know it was a way of talking down to me. A way to show that they knew more about something than I did. I’m not saying every man has done this — of course not — but the percentage that have is pretty damn high.

Backhanded compliments, micro-aggressions, mansplaining, whatever you want to call it.

They take place in my studio when it has been open to the public; at my solo shows where work is selling; at group shows with other artists; at public art-making events or charities; online in group discussions; in an email that was unsolicited; in front of my husband, best friend, gallery owner, collector, or my parents. It happens at parties when I first meet someone and I tell him I’m an artist (oh those can be precious). It happens when someone I don’t know well sees that other acquaintances buy my work, and then they go on about how they want to commission a work of mine while simultaneously telling me what I need to do to be a famous/rich artist despite the fact they have NO experience or history in working in the realm of art.

And by the way, I can read people real damn quick when it comes to saying they want to commission a work. I’ve been doing it long enough I can tell who is serious and who is full of it — usually because they are showing off.

Hey I’m all for advice, when it really is that. I have male artists friends who tell me about cool products and stuff I should check out, or galleries and all that. Those are the men who aren’t out to try and prove they know more than me, insult me, or actually do work in my field and know me well enough that the advice or statements they make are helpful. They also don’t assume I’m a dummy.

I’ve heard many things. So many I can’t recall them all. Dumb things. Yet, the assumption is always I don’t know what I’m doing:

“Your prices are too high.”

“You should make your prices higher if you want to succeed.” (say that a little louder with the gallery director standing right there)

“You should do some social media.”

“You should get a publicist, I know a guy, he works with a lot of art types.”

“Your work doesn’t look as muddy in person.”

“You’re the one who does those Disney big-eye paintings. Yeah, I know who you are.” (What the living fuck?)

“You really should mold your contrasts more.” (I don’t think he knew what that meant)

“You should look up Hi Fructose Magazine.” “Yes, I’ve taken ads out with them and they feature my work on their website periodically.” “Oh.”

“You should read Juxtapoz Magazine.” “Yes I’ve been featured on their site many times and my friends are in it often, but since Complex Media bought them out I don’t look at it as often.” “Oh.”

“That’s not oil, that’s acrylic — I can TELL.” (the painting was in oil and I was sitting right there and he didn’t bother to talk to me in my own studio)

“Well, that’s certainly…interesting.” (blows nose into snotty tissue and drops it on my studio floor as he walks out)

“Have you ever thought of doing commissions?” “Yes I’ve been doing them since I was 16” “Oh, but like real ones? Like mayors and judges?” (I think my facial expression told him everything)

“You should do velvet paintings.” “Those are awful, why would I do that?” “Because people really like buying those.”

“You should show in galleries.” “Thanks, I do, all over the US, and Israel, and Australia.” “Oh well I guess you have it all figured out, huh?”

“Have you ever thought of submitting to galleries?” “Yes I’ve actually been showing in them for a long time.” “No I know, but like, real ones.”

“Yeah, I could tell you use different oil paint brands in one painting. Weird. Huh.” (what the living fuck?)

“You should take out advertising in Art in America or something.” “Well, that’s not my audience and some of those ads are $5-10K” “Oh.”

“Nice work. But, you should come to my art show tonight, it’s just right down the street and a couple blocks over.” (I was right in the middle of my own solo show opening reception)

“These are nice but I don’t know if I’d frame them like that.” (It was the opening reception and I sold two of them)

“You should try painting on linen/canvas/panel. I bet it would look really nice.” (I work on all of these)

“You should show your work in Los Angeles. You’d sell a lot there.” “I do show there. I’m from Los Angeles.”

“Your work is too slick. You shouldn’t make it so slick.”

“I could tell a woman painted these. It’s so obvious.”

“I saw the article about you. That was a really weird combination of your work they chose.”

“The guy you have taking your artwork photos is really good.” “I take all my own photos, thanks.” “Oh really? Isn’t that something.”

“Have you ever thought of doing this professionally?”

“You should sell your paintings on Etsy. My wife sells her handmade soaps on there.”

“You should make prints of that.” “I have them, here’s where to purchase them.” (Spoiler Alert: doesn’t buy print!)

“Do you know an artist by the name of… [pick a name of any male artist ever in the history of time and insert].” “Why yes, I have a book on him.” “Oh, well, yes I thought I’d tell you about him, but I guess you already know of him.”

“Do you know [insert current female artist]? Her work is okay, but she’s hot!”

“I bet you like Frida Kahlo a lot.” “Actually, I don’t. I never got into her.” “Oh, I thought all women liked her. That’s strange!”

These things would never get said to a man in the tone they get said to me. And I don’t go up to writers at book signings and get all, “Hey! You ever heard of this guy Hemingway? You’d like him because dudes like him!” or “You know what you should do? Have you ever thought of getting a publisher?” when I’m at a book store where the guy is signing books.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m sure there are more egregious examples my friends can attest to that I’ve blocked out of my memory. I’m sure many to do with my appearance as well. I’m lucky that the art scene I am lumped into has a large number of female artists who are supported in the media, by their male counterparts, curators and so on. I could be wrong, but within that scene alone, I feel like the amount of solo shows is almost evenly divided between men and women. Sadly the percentage of female solo shows at major art institutions, major galleries and fairs in hovering around 33% though it drops sometimes to 20%. The exception being the Venice Biennale at 50% in 2010. Ten years ago women made up more than 60% of the art school students in the USA, so aside from going into arts administration (which now is mainly women) I don’t know what to think.

And again, apologies to those men who are genuine fans of the band, artist, writer, and are smart and confident enough to not make these little digs. You guys are rad! I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, but this stuff gets built up over time and I’m done making excuses for dopes or rationalizing their behavior.

As with anything, think before you speak. If no one asked you for a suggestion or critique, don’t give it. Like a normal human. And, don’t assume that the first thought that pops in your head of how you would do something or do it different, hasn’t already been considered.

Tell me your thought or stories in the comments. I think I’m finally “grown ass lady” enough to start calling this stuff out when it happens again.

13 thoughts on “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing: IMMA GURL ARTIST HALP”

  1. Yes to all that. When I was a sculptor, I was getting UPS to help me pack a piece for a show in Seattle (they didn’t provide crates for that show and the piece was pretty sturdy.) In the middle of packing the sculpture, he asked if I thought it was padded enough and then said that even though he was a little nervous, “At least they’re not real sculptures!”

  2. The men who tell me what to paint is almost a whole separate post. And they always throw in the, “I read an article that said paintings with a lot of color blue sell the most.” or worse they state it as a fact like they did their own research on it. Shut-up.
    Also, h/t to Tatiana Suarez for this, because YES:

  3. I used to get mansplained to a lot when I was younger. Usually along the lines of, “your girls are too tall! Why are all of your people so tall!!!” and of course, “they need bigger boobs.”
    Unfortunately, I’ve always gotten a lot of shade from women too, unless I draw non human subjects, which they love.
    But, I have so little contact with people now that I’m largely protected from any of the bullshit. I do not envy you having to deal with this crap.

  4. Let’s turn this into a game for charity (preferably a womens abuse charity). Every time you get a threat, I’ll donate $. Anytime a dude tries to blame you, I’ll donate $. Anytime a dude says, “you aren’t talented/a real artist/that good” I’ll donate $. Anytime you are called a bitch/cunt/slut/whore or variation thereof, I’ll donate $. Anytime anyone mentions how you look, I’ll donate money. Anyway, you, me, charity of your choice wins! Keep the (flaccid like your small peens) insults coming boys. The more pathetic insults you hurl, the more we laugh. And laugh. And donate.

  5. I was recently at an art opening of a male artist whose work I have followed for a number of years. I was in the middle of a conversation with him when another man came along, and, standing behind me and a head taller, simply started to talk to the artist. The artist just left our conversation and they talked right over me. When I turned to the intruder and said, “excuse me but we were having a conversation”, he responded, “not anymore”. I was planning to buy at that show, but will take my money elsewhere.

    BTW- I went out the next day and bought very tall shoes. It will never happen again. I think I’ll make that donation.

    1. What an asshat! To even then dig it in deeper with the “not anymore”. I’m glad you took your money elsewhere. See this is a whole other aspect, the invisible woman. Ugh.

  6. AAGGHH, I am SO tired of this SHIT.
    Fucking. never.ending.

    AND, most frustrating to me, is that my (just turned 21) daughter doesn’t clue into it. As a matter of fact, when we checked out ‘Portlandia’ for the first time, she told me I could be one of the women of the Women&Women bookstore. Only half in jest. (!!!!???)

    I’m thinking she needs to go to a women’s college (wish there were more around still.)

    Oh, and ‘furious painter:’ YES, I’m seen and experienced a variation of that behavior and it still makes my blood boil. Back when I was younger and could pull off a high, stilletto type heel, I found it helpful to accidently back onto the offending asshole’s foot, HARD.
    Followed up with, of course, an effusive girly apology. 😉

  7. If I had a penny every time someone looks for a ‘man’ to talk to at MY gallery, I’d be much richer. Fortunately most the men at my gallery are feminists, gay, or just wary enough of my wrath- they immediately defer the customer to me. I assumed it was Midwest chauvinism but I hear it’s further spread than that. You are a great example of capable intelligence with excellent communication skills along with artistic talent. Glad you don’t suffer fools lightly.

  8. I can’t (can!) believe the remark about Hi Fructose magazine. I saw your ad there and clipped it out for inspiration years ago. When the internet was born I dug through my clippings file to find the ad and look you up.

    The most galling one for me is “Have you ever thought about selling your art?” I don’t know …. maybe every time I open the electric bill I get to keep the oxygen machine turned on????

    1. That’s so great you saw it (I had done 2 or 3 ads but now I can’t remember) back when it was a new magazine, too! Well you know, us guuurls need all the suggestions on how to do things because, well, we’re lady women.

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