Intersectionality and Art

10 Sep

My friend Audra asked the following question on her Facebook a little over a week ago:

“Which do you think is worse: intentionally only ever buying art* made by women, or accidentally only ever buying art made by men?”

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think that either is worse, because I don’t think that either of those things are bad or wrong, necessarily. But I do think that it’s super important to look at how and why we consume media. I also think it’s necessary every once in a while to take a long hard look at the media choices we’re making, and ask ourselves whether or not we are making conscious decisions about the type of artists that we are supporting and promoting.

This point was driven home today as I took a short break from the enormous tome that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (because what better time to tackle this beast than on a 60-hour train trip across Canada?) to read Dave Egger’s introduction to the book. In this brief five-page preface, Eggers manages to name-check the fourteen following artists:

Thomas Pynchon

Elmore Leonard

Jonathan Franzen

William Gaddis

Saul Bellow

William S. Burroughs

Fred Exley

Marcel Proust

Stephin Merritt

Howard Finster

Sufjan Stevens

Jack Kerouac

William T. Vollmann

Michael Apted

You’ll note two uniting features about everyone mentioned this list – they are all white, and they are all men.

Now, I don’t think that Dave Eggers only reads books by white dudes. In fact, I happen to know that Eggers both reads and promotes books by all kinds of non-white-dude writers. But I can’t help noticing that when he’s talking about the crème de la crème, when he’s mentioning the artists to whom he’s comparing a book that he claims will, ultimately, leave you a better person, they are all. white. men. Every single last one of them.

And I don’t think that the exclusivity of this list is intentional; I don’t think that Eggers really thinks that men are better writers than women, or that white folks are better writers than people of colour. But what I do think is that it’s really, really easy to fall into the trap of only consuming art made by white men. I mean, it’s the status quo, right? You go into a bookstore and almost all the featured books are by men (although, being in Canada, I have to admit that they pretty much always include at least one Atwood because it’s the law or whatever). Only four women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; only one has ever won. If you’ve ever been in a comic book store, you know how hard you often have to dig to find something by a woman, let alone a woman of colour.

And it’s like, sometimes I just feel invisible, you know? I mean, I’m really just starting out and I haven’t even published my first book and in spite of that I have a fairly decent online following and I am super grateful for that and I’m luckier than a whole lot of people, but. BUT. I feel like I’m always going to be excluded when it comes to these types of lists. I’m never going to be allowed into the Old Boys’ Club (because then it wouldn’t be a boys’ club, duh), or if I am permitted to join in every once in a blue moon, I’ll be treated as a pet, a sweet little thing, a curiosity, and never, ever as a serious writer. And this exclusion won’t be malicious, and it won’t be intentional; it’ll just be because my name (or any other woman’s name) will never be the first (or even fourteenth) to spring to mind when a man is coming up with a list of his all-time favourite, greatest, most influential writers.

And that sucks.

So let’s take a moment to share our favourite not-white-dude artists, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll all come away with some new and exciting books, movies, paintings, sculptures, songs, television shows, etc, to check out.

Here’s my list:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi



Margaux Williamson, Teenager Hamlet


The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham


Ginger & Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter

* Any form of art or media, be it literature, visual art, film, music, television, etc.

16 Responses to “Intersectionality and Art”

  1. brennalayne September 10, 2013 at 1:39 am #

    YES. Thank you! I have wondered all these things in less articulate and much grouchier language. Why do women write “women’s lit.,” while men write literature? And when I think about it, I can think of numerous instances of women citing men as influences, but how often in the arts do male artists credit female ones?

    Tori Amos, Octavia Butler, Jane Austen, Ursula K. LeGuin, Georgia O’Keefe, Virginia Woolf, Martha Graham, Mary Shelley…okay, I’ll just stop here because I could be at this all night.

  2. armsakimbobook September 10, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    No kidding! I’d add Audre Lorde (any and all poetry; The Cancer Journals) and Adrienne Rich (Of Woman Born; A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far) in the literary sphere, Judith Jamison and Twyla Tharp in dance, Marsha Norman (‘Night Mother) and Wendy Wasserstein (the Heidi Chronicles) in theater, Ferron – the best damned songwriter in many generations (listen to just about anything, but Cactus and Girl on a Road are extremely powerful), and Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation). These are just off the top of my head.

  3. dustysoulblog September 10, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    I have a blog about art- mostly art from or about the dust bowl area (I live in Oklahoma), but also about art I find significant in general. Specifically I’ve highlighted Laurie Fisk (science and installation artl), Dina Goldstein (photographer, “Fallen Princess” Series), and Dorthea Lange (photograph, famous for Dust Bowl photos). All VERY cool women in the art world. The link is below if you ever want to check it out- I’ll definitely be writing more about women in art!

  4. dustysoulblog September 10, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Oh, and Ann Hamilton (another large-scale installation artist).

  5. evolution September 10, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I have not really noticed this imbalance in bookstores, and I worked in one for years. I know personally that I pay no attention to whether the author is male or female when I choose a book, but I do once I start reading it, and it admittedly does have an impact on my perception. Whether or not that perception is bad or good, I’m not quite sure, but I’ll be conscious of that from now on. I am aware that women also perpetuate this ancient “fairy story” perception of female authors, to reference Little Women.

  6. Burns the Fire September 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    THANK YOU!! Reading this post is a relief as we still have a long way to go. Lists help. Here are a few artists off the top of my head: Bjork, Amanda Palmer, Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding, Toni Morrisson, Dorothea Tanning, Dorothea Lange.

  7. mfennvt September 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Thank you for this. Here’s a little bit of my list: Ani DiFranco, Ursula K. Le Guin (Lathe of Heaven is one of the best SF books ever), Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, another vote for Janelle Monae, James Tiptree, Jr. (yes, a woman), Leigh Brackett.

  8. Frances September 11, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    Oh oh I love this post!! Off the top of my head: Agatha Christie, Mary Tyler Moore, Nalo Hopkinson, Roseanne Barr (except I heard she has some transphobic opinions, SIGH), Anne Brontë, Barbra Streisand!

  9. DysthymiaBree September 11, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    And here’s my list, though my head’s a little muzzy right now and given time I may come up with a better one: Doris Lessing; Ursula Le Guin; Jeanne Antoinette Poisson (aka Madame de Pompadour); P.D. James; Sally Morgan; Margaret Court.

  10. Amy Keeley September 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on where i keep my stuff and commented:
    Reblogging because it mentions Persepolis and I LOVE Persepolis. Oh, and it also increases awareness of unconscious standards encouraged by a society that seems to think only men create excellent art.

  11. alice-in-wonder September 14, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Isn’t Persepolis just awesome? I picked it up without any idea what it was and was just blown away.

  12. hypatiaofvermont September 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Now I really want to do a thing where people share their favorite not white cishet male artists. You know? I feel like it could be a thing.


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