Girls in the Jungle:
what does it take for a woman to survive as an artist?
"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits..."
"If what I do prove well it won't advance
They'll say it's stolen, or else it was by chance."
Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1650)
1. Commitment to the work. Use opposition, hardship, ridicule, dismissive and abusive teachers, critics, gallery owners to fuel your work.
2. Don't wait for someone else to give you permission to take yourself seriously as an artist. The first task is to invent yourself as an artist - paint a self-portrait, even if you have to repaint it every six months.
3. Figure out what skills you have by which to put food on your table and be ready to give up your security if it begins to smother your art. Don't tie economic survival solely to your art (lest you be compelled to pain Marie Antoinette as the ideal mother).
4. Question everything.
5. Establish alternative galleries, journals, presses, colonies, seminars - and be willing to run things, to learn what you have to in order to do so, rather than just griping about the way things are run. Institutional rigidity and calcification are a function of size.
6. Gripe about the way things are done in institutions which hold power and influence. Steal the language of the critics. Use the power-brokering language of statistics to place institutions under surveillance.
7. Place yourself under surveillance. Innovations in the arts always come from the margin - from outsiders - and often their work is not considered art. That's how the forms evolve. To say that quality will always rise to the public eye, regardless of gender and ethnicity, assumes that sexism and racism are conscious. There is enough evidence already, thank you, that sexism and racism are deeply engrained modes of thought which we do not understand and which do not appear at present to be controlled by our will. The avowed sexist is less a problem to me than one who is blind to his own dismissive, offensive, abusive, or aesthetically naive treatment of women. As a reader and viewer, look to the margins, look for your own blindness.
8. If you don't believe that culture and aesthetics are inseparable, think about jazz, think about opera, think about the Yaqui deer dancer. Art has always been a way in which our species has intercourse with the unknown - the unknown in ourselves, in our culture and in the universe. Therefore I see the kind of politicization of art which asks us to be willfully conscious of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual diversity not as a form of "correctness" but as an entering into the continuing mystery of what we are and what we are to become on this planet.
9. Take responsibility for our own education as an artist.
10. Commit yourself to a lifetime apprenticeship.