Last month, the Observer published an interview with the art critic Brian Sewell, which included this exchange:
In the past, you've stated that there are no great female artists. Do you honestly believe that?
Well, how many can you think of? None of them is the originator of anything. My argument about Frida Kahlo is that, had she been Fred Kahlo, she'd have been forgotten.
Are there great women in other fields?
Where is the female Mozart? Where's Mrs Shakespeare?
Perhaps she's raising William Shakespeare to be brilliant…
That may be the answer. But when you look at ministers – that poor, floundering home secretary! She is the necessary woman in the cabinet to keep the feminists quiet. She isn't any good.
However, there are another couple of perspectives.
First, in many ways representational art has not developed significantly since the paintings, figurines, and decorations of the prehistoric era.
And we have no idea as to the gender of those true originators.
Second, just think of the inherent advantages men have had in recent human history in terms of access to capital and income to support an artistic career; in terms of access to technical training such as apprenticeships and peer groups such as guilds; and in terms of access to commercial and other outlets for their work so to make the whole artisitic enterprise viable.
Think about how, until recently, it would have been almost impossible for a woman to follow any similar artistic vocation: to make a living from her work and creativity in the recognised fine arts.
And it becomes clear that the real question is not why there have been so few genuinely great women artists or creators, but instead why - with all these advantages - there have actually been so few male ones.
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