Art and caregiving intersect in the rhetoric of “labor of love”. In the art world, this belief is embodied in stereotyped notions of the artist as genius. A persistent trope, the artist genius is also always assumed to be childless just as art making is portrayed to be an all consuming undertaking antithetical to childrearing. The childless artist is center stage among the handful of contemporary women art stars.
By contrast, representations of ‘woman’ as caregiver abound in art. Images of the passive, self-less, self-sacrificing Madonna are emblematic. That both stereotypes overlay retrograde gender hierarchies and divisions of labor in art and care is corroborated by the numbers. According to a June 2015 article in ARTNews, the statistics relative to the number of women artists represented in major art museums and galleries remains dismal with the Hayward Gallery in the UK being the worst. Only 22 percent of their solo exhibitions were devoted to women in the past seven years. In the U.S., the Metropolitan Museum appears to suffer from a particularly harsh time warp. It appears that in 2012 only 4 percent of the artists they supported with exhibitions were women and that figure is worse than their 1989 figures. France isn’t far behind these bad boy scores. The Centre Pompidou has only dedicated 16 percent of its exhibition to women since 2007. Parallel statistics report that women continue to bear the brunt of housework chores and child care. One recent government-funded survey suff ices to put this in perspective: “men typically do about 9.6 hours of housework each week; women typically do about 18.1 hours. When it comes to child care, men average about 7 hours a week while women put in about 14 hours.”
It appears then that the labor of love rhetoric permeating art making and caregiving is nothing but a metaphor for unpaid labor. And because of societal expectations, women artists are most impacted. Art institutions can and must play a role in changing these dynamics. The point is not to include women merely as tokens, but to structurally account for and support artists who are also caregivers.
Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson, Nanette Yannuzzi