Women in the Art World: Personal vs. Professional Fulfillment

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has kicked off a debate regarding her decree that present societal conditions make having both a satisfying work life and raising a family impossible and that the feminist dream to “have it all” is simply not possible. ARTINFO, in response to this debate, conducted a survey about women in the art world and whether or not they were satisfied with their reality.

Reaching out to “high-achieving women in the arts with varied backgrounds and career paths, both mothers and non-mothers,” ARTINFO received an overwhelming amount of responses. In these responses, themes emerged surrounding the experiences of the women which were rather interesting to read.

The first theme to emerge from the study revolved around feminist ideology. In the 70’s it was well preached that women could be ‘superwomen’ and have both a successful career while maintaining a functional family life. Some women took this ideology and combined family life with work life, while other women choose to compromise one or the other. No single way is the right way as every career woman finds her own balance, but all paths depend on a number of circumstances such as the age of the children or the job position or where you are at in your life. Whether the path is fulfilling is up the women to determine.

The second theme to emerge was creative and cooperative career planning. With technology being widely available, more women in the art world are able to work from home. Shared responsibility, selectivity, and of course planning all aid in being successful at both, but tough choices still need to be made. Yvonne Force Villareal, an owner of the Art Production Fund, stated the feelings best in her response when she said, “What I quickly grew to learn is that ‘balance’ is a relative term. Something always has to give – compromise and sacrifice are constant factors.”

Career or Family or Both?

The third theme is the location of the art professionals. Different countries have different societal views and roles for working women. Some are more supportive of women in the workplace while others are not, and the term “having it all” means different things to different women. The last theme to emerge is the framing of, ‘can’t have it all’. Many of the art professionals were taken aback by the closed-mindedness of Slaughter’s suggestion. Antonia Carver, director of Art Dubai, stated it best when she said, “Where we went wrong seems to be in the way that it was assumed that ‘having it all’ was a universal aspiration, and that the responsibility to achieve this should come from women themselves. It wasn’t society that needed to change, but women who needed to try harder. So the weight of balancing work and family, and the challenge of physically ‘fitting it all in’ primarily fell to women.”

In the art world in particular, which is often a male driven realm, women are able to be successful both professionally and personally. Comprise is the best solution as echoed by all of the female art professionals in the survey, while constantly re-prioritizing what is important in their lives. The fascinating aspect about this topic is that gender roles are taboo and everyone has a strong opinion regarding the matter, but the woman has the power to decide what ‘having it all’ means to her, and there is no larger disparity in this belief than in the art world.

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