Essays about Female Artists



Clever and resourceful, daring and adventurous, independent and charismatic are just a few of the qualities that describe Marie Louise Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun.  Born in Paris in 1755, she was taught to paint by her father and it was quite clear that she was a savant once her skills were revealed.  She had her own art studio by the time she was fifteen years old and had to support her mother and the rest of her family due to the death of her father three years prior.  At the age of twenty-one, Vigee-Lebrun married Pierre Lebrun who eventually squandered her earnings. They had one daughter named Julie.  The artist then attended the Academie de Saint Luc and then eventually was admitted to the prestigious Academie Royale.  Vigee-Lebrun’s most famous client was Marie Antoinette with whom she managed to be in good favor with.  In fact, she was called on by Antoinette to become the resident artist at the palace at Versailles.  It was the French Revolution, more specifically the invasion of the palace of Versailles on July 14, 1789, that forced Vigee-Lebrun into exile with her daughter.  She travelled throughout Europe painting and regaining her fortune for nearly twelve years.  She published memoirs that spoke of her extraordinary life, and lived to be eighty-seven years old.  Vigee-Lebrun died in 1842.

The reason I chose Marie Louise Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun is the way she reveals her own personality in her self-portraits.  I see a kind of sweetness and innocence as well as intelligence and confidence.  She was a woman whose fortunes were spent by her stepfather and her husband but still managed, through her tenacity and talent, to twice regain the kind of self-sufficiency and wealth most people cannot attain even once in their lifetimes.  To be in good graces with Marie Antoinette also was no small feat.  Only a very clever, very charming, and socially and artistically talented woman could accomplish this.  All of these traits are apparent in her self-portraits and it is why I chose to highlight her for the chapter.


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A profoundly deep and spiritual woman, Sandra Orgel was on the front lines of the 1970’s Feminist Movement that helped change the way women artists were viewed and respected in our society.  Born in 1952, Orgel was one of several women who put together Womanhouse, an exhibition that featured other feminist works by Judy Chicago, Faith Wilding, and Paula Harper.  She was only nineteen years old when she became involved with the movement but even then was extremely emotionally affected by it.  When Orgel was in her mid-twenties, she claims that her dreams often inspired and steered her on her spiritual and artistic path.  “During this period I started having dreams that guided the direction of my life. These dreams were experiences more profound and “real” than my waking experience” (Orgel, 1).  She obtained a bachelor’s degree in art and education and went on to teach ceramics and pottery, painting, and drawing in a studio she opened in 1979.  In 1982, she moved to Taos, New Mexico, and about this time, she met her husband.  In 1991, Orgel established a ceramics company, and four years later, she started a women’s group that focuses on spirituality and sharing of personal experiences.  Sandra Orgel continues to evolve as an artist and affect others with her beautiful and powerful works of art.  Today she is known as Sandra Orgel Crooker with her own pottery business, residing in New Mexico.

The reason I chose Sandra Orgel for the featured artist of “Household Vanities”, was that her work, Sheet Closet really struck a chord with me. I grasped the symbolism instantly and was very moved by it.  The fact that it has been replicated so much is no surprise and is also telling of her ability to reach others on that level.  Her creativity and feminist messages still ring true today, and serve as a reminder of how far we have come, yet, also, how far we have to go.  Sandra Orgel challenges tradition while encouraging women everywhere to step out of their confined roles to lead more authentic and spiritual lives.


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Born Zhang Yuliang in 1895 in the Anhui Province, Pan Yuliang stands as a metaphor for the Lotus Flower. The saying is that a Lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud; the thicker the mud, the more beautiful the flower.  The beginning of her life was plagued with adversity.  Both of her parents died when she was very young, and then her uncle sold her into prostitution when she was fourteen years old.  After seven years in a brothel, she was bought by a customs officer and so finally able to leave prostitution for good.  The two went to Shanghai where she took and passed the entrance exams and began studying art from Wang Jiyuan at the Shanghai Arts School.  After graduation, Pan Yuliang left for Paris and was awarded a scholarship to study art in Italy.  She won the top prize at the Roman International Art Exhibition and then was invited to teach in Shanghai and Nanjing.  Her awards and exhibitions were many, especially from 1929 to 1936.  After teaching in Shanghai, she went to live in Paris.  It was in 1977, in Paris, when she died.

The reason I chose Pan Yuliang is that her nude paintings offer, not only a woman’s perspective on the matter, but a viewpoint from someone who suffered so much injustice in early life and was eventually able to triumph over it.  Being forced into prostitution, Pan Yuliang’s stance on the female nude would take on a completely new meaning.  After all of the paintings I viewed in the chapter about the male artists’ trips to the brothels, I thought it would be interesting to see how Pan Yuliang would interpret the subject matter of the female nude.  What amazes me most is not the aestheticism that comes across from her works, but the fact that after being in the sex industry against her will, as a child, for years, that there is an immanent sense of calm and peace.  The only way for me to rationalize this is that, not only does this take exceptional artistic talent, but it also takes an exceptional sense of strength, courage, resilience, and of being able to transcend the worst of life and make it beautiful.  This is the other reason I chose Pan Yuliang as the featured artist for week ten.


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Born July 10, 1922 in Richmond, Nell Blaine faced a disproportionate number of hardships that began in early childhood. Her father was emotionally and physically abusive and she was cross-eyed and nearsighted, therefore could only see the world as a blurry, non-distinct place.  When she was two years old, her parents got her corrective glasses and, suddenly, she could see the world as it was.  She said later that this moment made her want to become an artist.  After a year of being too ill to attend school, she was teased for being cross-eyed when she did eventually go back but instead of letting it shatter her confidence, she stood up to not only her bullies, but also the bullies of other children.  Thanks to her older cousin, Charlotte, Blaine received corrective eye surgery when she was thirteen.  After graduating high school, she moved to New York to study at The School of Art in 1942 where not only did she meet several like-minded artists, but she also met jazz musician Bill Blass whom she would marry six months after arriving.  Six years later the couple separated.  In 1950, her travels to France changed the way she created her art.  Inspired by its landscapes and lighting, she had a highly prolific stage at that time and when she returned to New York, her pieces sold better than at any other time in her career.  In 1959, she contracted bulbar-spinal polio which causes paralysis and after being told she could no longer paint, her feisty spirit rebelled, and with the help of two friends, she learned to paint with her left hand.  When she felt well enough she again went abroad to the Caribbean, England, Portugal and France and was renewed with fresh inspiration.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s was when she received the most notoriety and awards.  In 1996, she died of cancer and the recurrence of polio symptoms in New York.

The reasons I chose the images above are because of the complex lighting, and the bright colors and how they are arranged in the paintings.  I chose Nell Blaine because of her fearless, indomitable spirit, and the way she dealt with the difficulties in her life.  Her paintings never showed these difficulties, but only an innocent sense joy for life.  It’s as if her artwork was the one safe, happy place she could go to escape her hardships.  This was why she fought so hard to keep it when told she could never paint again.  It was her purpose, and thankfully, she fought until the very end for it.



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Born Mabel Jacque Williamson in 1875 in Cincinnati, Ohio, she didn’t take on the name Mabel Dwight until after her eleven year marriage failed. However, in her childhood, Dwight travelled to New Orleans and San Francisco, enrolling in art classes and being educated on the many social and political issues that would later be addressed in her art.  The local art classes she took in California also made it possible for her to travel abroad to places like Egypt and India where she could hone her artistic skills drawing her observations.  In 1903, she got married and moved to Greenwich Village in New York.  It was during this time that she abandoned her creative life in order to focus on domesticity.  Apparently, she had enough of that lifestyle after eleven years and divorced her husband.  She changed her last name to Dwight a year later.  When she was fifty-two and went to Paris she met her true calling in Lithography.  At first, her pieces were of everyday New Yorkers going about their lives, as well as rural American landscapes, and the works had an affectionate, humorous feel to them.  It was the occurrence of the Great Depression that led her artwork down a more politically, socially charged path as many of her lithographs were anti-fascist messages.  In 1935, she was a part of a small group of women artists to support the American Artists Congress to fight fascism.  She died in 1955 in Sellersville.

The reasons I chose the above images are because of the mood each one evokes as well as the atmospheric quality they possess.  I chose Mabel Dwight because of the political messages she includes in her art.  It was very commonplace for women to assume only the roles of wife and mother during those times, and she admirably, stayed true to herself as an artist, as well as spoke out about social issues that mattered most to her.



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Born in Pennsylvania in 1900, Alice Neel’s unforgivingly honest and irreverent art mirrors her very complex and trying life. After graduating from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, she married Carlos Enriquez who was a Cuban artist.  The couple moved to Havana, Cuba and had their daughter.  Two years later, after moving to New York, their daughter died and shortly after this, her husband fled to Paris with their youngest daughter without Neel.  In 1930, she was hospitalized for an attempted suicide and remained there for half a year.  Shortly after her release, she entered a relationship with another unstable man addicted to drugs.  During one of his rages, he destroyed sixty of her pieces.  After he was out of her life, the men that she became involved with were also destructive, unhinged, and violently angry.  Because Neel would not alter her style of painting, she received low notoriety until the end of her life when, in 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded her the National Caucus for Women’s Art Outstanding Achievement Award.  Her other awards also were acquired in the last ten or so years of her life.

It is said that one can see the personality of the characters in her paintings, and this is why I chose the images above. They are of people one could easily pass by in the street, but through Neel’s expertise and skill, they become engaging and mythic, and at the same time, makes one feel slightly uncomfortable.  I also chose Alice Neel because after reading about her ability to sanctify the poor, the underclass, the outcasts, the everyday people of the world, I wanted to share her story.  She sanctified an average pregnant woman when other artists wouldn’t come near that subject.  She painted women in all stages of womanhood and elevated them to heroic levels.  In her art, I believe the reason she was unafraid to convey the cold harshness of life and the people who are most worn from it was because she had her own personal suffering to draw upon.  She died at the age of eighty-four.



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If it is provocation you want, with Shonaugh Adelman, it is provocation you will get. Much of the Canadian artist’s work is sexually fueled, though not from the traditional misogynistic heterosexual male perspective that torments the average girl to be physically perfect as well as a porn star in the bedroom.  Adelman’s work focuses on the female body; specifically, female body parts as well as authentic female desire.  Writer Becki Ross speaks of Adelman’s project, Skindeep.

“Skindeep critically engages the “lesbian porn” produced and mass-marketed to hetero-sexual male consumers. That is, this series of images simultaneously evokes and deconstructs the aesthetic and sexual rubric of magazines such as Forum, Penthouse, Hustler, etc. In Hustlers “Stream of Cuntiousness” spread (March 1990), women are central to the pictured scene but as overburdened signs of male lust, male sexual appetites and obsessions, not as sexually self-defining subjects. By contrast, Skindeep articulates the desiring female body in all its multiplicity.”

Shonaugh Adelman’s art shows women the truth and complexity of our sexual desires and fantasies and reminds us of our right to them instead of just mindlessly accepting that female sexuality is the result of the insatiable male appetite. The artist currently lives in Toronto and New York.

The reasons I chose the images above are because of the daring messages they convey to women.  The colors are bold and the images are highly graphic so as to get one’s attention.  Gone are the passive, idealized, gazed upon ladies-in-waiting.  These are powerful women who own their sexuality.  Instead of waiting to be sexually directed by the suffocating male perspective, Adelman’s art urges women to be self-directed.

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“…my art is an attempt to refocus human vision on the too often unnoticed and underappreciated elements that make survival possible on what we so appropriately know as the “blue planet”.      Soledad Salame

Born in Santiago, Chile, Soledad Salame’s art is a reflection of the harsh truth that when one connects with the beauty of nature, one is also aware of the enemies that threaten to destroy it.  After receiving her B.A. in Santiago, she went on to pursue her Master’s degree in Printmaking in Venezuela.  It was in Venezuela where she travelled to the rainforest and witnessed the effects of Mercury to plant and animal life as well as the way it infected the water.  It is this common theme of aquatic life that she addresses in her art, and in 2006 at the National Museum of Bellas Artes in Santiago, she had an exhibition that focused on how water is key to not only our survival, but our collective consciousness.  In Baltimore, Maryland, where Salame currently lives and teaches, she held an exhibition at The Contemporary Museum in Baltimore where a sixteen foot mural was staged of the three thousand mile coast of Maryland.  It signified how pollution has forever altered these beautiful shores.

The reasons I chose the images above are because of the mood that they create with Salame’s use of color, as well as her techniques that display the movement of the water.  When I read more about her and the causes she stands for, I became even more fascinated with the paintings.  There is a sense of storminess, or even anger.  It’s hard to tell if it’s from the artist or the Earth itself, but either way, the message comes across in a very powerful way.


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Eliza Pratt Greatorex led an extraordinarily rich and eventful life. A student of realism, she travelled extensively throughout Europe with her daughters Kathleen and Elizabeth creating landscape etchings and paintings, frequenting Paris and New York often.

She was born in Ireland on Christmas day in 1819 and went on to study under William Wotherspoon. She married musician Henry Wellington Greatorex and had two daughters.  In 1858, Henry passed away and Greatorex moved to New York and opened an art studio on Broadway where she taught classes in between travelling to Ireland, France and Germany in order to study landscape painting.  She was the first artist to paint in Colorado Springs in 1873 after being sent there by publisher G.P. Putnam and the creations were later published.  Nine years later, Eliza and her daughters returned to New York and once again, offering art lessons.  Four short years after that, they travelled to Paris to paint the many happenings of the beautiful, magical city.  In 1891, she passed away in Paris.

The reasons I chose the images above are because of the whimsical nature of them. They almost seem like scenes in a fairy tale even though there are black and white.  The details are unbelievably intricate and create an amazing three dimensional illusion.  Perhaps the fairy tale-like quality comes through so clearly because Eliza Greatorex’s life mirrored the magical, whimsical nature of her work.



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Minna Citron was far ahead of her time artistically and socially. Born in 1896 in Newark, New Jersey, she did not get her start in the art world until she was twenty-eight years old, married with children.  Citron attempted to fit her marital and maternal roles, but her heart was always steering her to the artistic path.  Her training began at the School of Applied Design for Women and the Arts Student League from 1928 until 1935.  She divorced her husband a year before completion, moved to Union Square in New York, and became part of a team of artist with similar styles and methods.  Citron worked on printmaking, murals, and after a trip to Europe, became interested in abstract art.  The 1940’s was a time in her career when her art was a way to work through her own struggles and experiences, especially when dealing with the conflict of domestic life versus personal independence.  This is why Citron was ahead of her time.  A woman dumping their home lives for a career was practically unheard of.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s, when feminism was erupting and women’s issues were being addressed, that she would admit to having always been a feminist.

The reason I chose the images above is because there seems to be an underlying sense of lightheartedness, even in the abstract paintings.  The characters in the sketches seem engaging and charming.  Most of all, I chose Minna Citron for this essay because of her integrity to follow her gift and talent regardless of societal pressure and preconceived feminine roles for that time period.  She died in 1991, one year after her last exhibition.


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Sculptor Yuriko Yamaguchi was born in Osaka, Japan and later moved to the US. She acquired her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975 and then her MFA from the University of Maryland in College Park Maryland in 1979.  She has received numerous awards for her work since 1985 including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Arts in 2006 in New York City, as well as The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Artist Residency award in 2009.  Of her work on the exhibition, “Metamorphosis, one critic wrote, “No other sculptor can turn paper, wood, flax and wire into wall sculptures of such intriguing ambiguity as Yuriko Yamaguchi. In the ongoing series of works titled “Metamorphosis,” begun in 1991, she conjures those materials into shapes so familiar yet so enigmatic that it’s almost impossible to keep from touching them, from physically examining them to try to divine their meaning…Such evocative power — aesthetically and psychologically — of her sculpture. “Metamorphosis” is an apt metaphor for what has gone on in the series over the years…But what makes Yamaguchi’s work so compelling is its audacious ambiguity, Nothing is quite what it seems, beginning with the physical appearance of the works. With many of the pieces, it’s almost impossible to know without referring to Yamaguchi’s written description whether a sculpture is animal, vegetable, or mineral. – Ferdinand Protzman, The Washington Post.

            Besides being well-respected among her peers, Yamaguchi’s creations span over twenty years on a consistent basis and she has had exhibitions appear somewhere in the world almost every year since 1985.  She presently instructs at George Washington University.

            The reason I chose the images was because of how the sculptures from a distance, appear almost to be moving, yet, when they are observed up close, one can see the small plastic pieces and tiny wires of their construction.  This in itself is mesmerizing because I can’t even imagine how long it took her to painstakingly mold each part into the masterpiece it is.  The above images are magical and exciting and, in my opinion, took sheer genius and patience to create.




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“Schio’s creative world has always been about collecting, assembling, and rearranging color and form. She gathers seemingly disconnected, even useless elements and transforms them into cohesive works of art.” –Lesley Poling-Kempes

Born March 8, 1952 in Zurich, Swiss artist Iren Schio currently resides in Abiquiu, New Mexico with her husband Bill Baird.  The two constructed much of their home and the furnishings and decorations are rich with her artistic style.  Perhaps it is no surprise that she would assume and undertaking of this magnitude because it is the art of assembly that reveals her signature style. She has said that her art also is influenced by the phases of the moon. Schio became enamored with mosaics and when asked to teach at the local elementary school, she set the children on treasure hunt for pieces to create the mosaics.  After her son, Marcos, went off to college, she and her husband bought land in rural New Mexico.  Schio’s art has appeared all over the world and many of her pieces are on display at Martha Keats Gallery in Santa Fe.

The reasons I chose the images above are because of the quiet, spiritual mood they exude.  The hues are warm; the geometric shapes are placed intricately into patterns that flow.  I love the technique Schio uses to make parts of the paintings look like stone.  Her art speaks to me on a mystical, spiritual level, and ultimately I am intuitively drawn to it.


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Elisabeth Charlotte Rist was nicknamed “Pipilotti” as a child, referencing Pippi Longstocking. Born June 21, 1962 in Grabs, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland.  Her educational background includes the University of Applied Arts Vienna and School of Design in Basel, where she studied video.  Some regard her as a feminist because the issues that crop up in her art are subjects of female sexuality and body image.  In fact in her short video, “I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much”, referencing the Beatles, Happiness in a Warm Gun, Rist dances around topless repeating the line until the screen eventually fades to fuzzy blue.  In “Pickelporno”, a video addressing female sexual arousal, a camera skims the skin of a couple having sex. Not only does she compose video, but she also has exhibitions of her photographs all over the world.  One highly talked about piece was what appeared to be a chandelier comprised of underwear (shown above).  Rist is a highly accomplished artist, having won an award for her work almost every year since 1991.  She presently resides in Zurich and Los Angeles.

The reasons I chose the above images are the use of bold color and the feeling of movement alluding to the knowledge that you just walked into the middle of something happening, as well as the way she addresses women’s body image and sexual issues.  The reason that Rist was such an obvious choice for the chapter “Asking for it,” is because her art reflects upon women’s sexuality, and challenges the double standard of male desire being considered perfectly normal and natural, while females are demoralized and judged for their sexual desires.  Most of all, it is the brazen and fearless way Rist empowers women to own their sexuality instead of falling victim to “the male gaze” and sexual standards that makes her one of the most authentic and creative contemporary artists of our time.


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“Altogether, I hope to wash my subjects of their exotic “otherness” and reveal them as dignified, even mythic figures on the grander scale of history painting. I am looking for the mythic pose beneath the historical figure- and the painting beneath the photograph.” –Hung Liu


Born February 17, 1948 in Changchun, China, Hung Liu moved around frequently throughout her life.  From Changchun, they headed to Jilin where her father was captured by Communist forces and she, her aunt, mother, and grandmother had no other choice but to go back to Changchun.  When Liu was eleven, she escaped with her aunt to Beijing and a year later her mother and grandparents also made the journey.  After nearly completing high school (schools closed due to the Cultural Revolution) Liu worked every day for four years in the rice fields.  In 1972 she enrolled in Beijing Teachers’ College when schools began operating again.  Three years later, Liu graduated and then took a prodigious job at Beijing’s Jingshan School teaching art.  During this time she also had a show on national television featuring her giving art lessons.  At the age of twenty-nine Liu gets married, and though they separated after one year, the couple had a son.  In October of 1984, a long held wish came true when she was finally granted a passport to the United States, and after studying for two years at The University of California, San Diego, where she met her current husband and earned her Master’s degree.  She currently teaches at Mills College.

Hung Liu is an extremely prolific artist.  At least one of her exhibitions has appeared either nationally or internationally every year since 1988.  She addresses women’s issues and many of her paintings are photos of nameless everyday people.  Some of her paintings are of photographs of prostitutes that she came across. Much of her creations are inspired by Chinese peasants and farmers and that way of life.  In the words of Hung Liu, “Thus, two layers of historical representation – from traditional painting and modern photography – co-exist in my paintings. The result of this overlay is a liberation of the rigid methodology of socialist realism – the style in which I was trained in China – as an improvisational painting style in which the photo-realism used in the service of propaganda dissolves into a fresh kind of history painting. In other words, I convert socialist realism into social realism.”

The reason I chose the images I did was the complexity of the image and how they blended into the artist’s message.  The photographs mixed with the paintings, the crispness combined with the smudged, the symbolic with the literal all draw me to these paintings.  I especially love how the “ordinary” people appear anything but that and speak volumes about the politics and culture of that time.


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The Guerrilla Girls are a group of anonymous women whose main objective is to expose sexism, racism, and political and social discrimination against women in and out of the art world. Their methods of attack are posters, literature, demonstrations, and gaining publicity through all forms of media.  They slam the perpetrators who perpetuate the oppression of women in the art world by a sarcastically brazen, avant-garde approach.  They also deconstruct other social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and politics with a sense of fearlessness as lone voices of conscience.  They have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and on the BBC, authored books about their organization, publicly demonstrated against, and derided some of the most prestigious museums in the world for failing to include women in their exhibitions.  Some of their most notorious accomplishments include fighting violence against women with Amnesty International, creating posters for the Oscars that fought the industry standard’s stereotyping of women in film, and hanging banners that chastised the previously untouchable museums in Athens, Bilbao, Shanghai, as well as in other countries all over the world.

The reason that I chose the two posters above is because in the first one, it clearly shows the different challenges that women artists face in order to be successful in their profession.  These obstacles would be foreign to male artists and it is important to highlight just what kind of sacrifice it takes to make it in the art world as a female.  The second poster I chose deals with how women are affected on a personal level by the decisions of the highest office.  It is sort of a macro to micro observation that shows how personal that politics are and how policies of the president affect women on such a personal level.  The fact that the Guerrilla Girls likened the Homeland Security threat to women reveals the ridiculously blatant sexism that women face on a daily basis.  Both of these posters are brilliant and cut right to the core of the discrimination and oppression of women.

The way that I plan to promote women’s art in the future is by spreading the word in any way possible.  I could include it on my Facebook page.  I will mention the great works of art by women artists in the stories I write and hope to publish someday.  I will try to educate friends, family, and even strangers on the issue.  I will try to give to organizations and charities that promote women artists, and visit museums that feature exhibitions by female artists.  Many people seem to be unaware of the disproportionate number of works displayed by women, as well as the unfair shunning of women in the art world’s beaurocratic boys club.  Communication through means of writing and speaking, as well as encouraging others to spread he word will be my way of promoting women’s art in the future .


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