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Hello English language learners and friends of Blue Noun English Language School Perthshire! Today our English language school talks art, and asks the question:

 

Institutional Gender Prejudice in Art and Music – is it changing?

 

We discuss how to help – and importantly: what to listen to in celebration of this International Day of Women.

Happy International Woman’s Day! To quote Women In Jazz,
Oour English language School talks art women in  jazz quote

Quote from the Women in Jazz website, poster design by Blue Noun, 2021

What’s all the noise about?

There is an obsession with genius in the western world – and with it, for most of Art History, the prejudice that genius is the preserve of the male. The theory goes that women can be really, really excellently talented, but language like ‘genius’ is almost never applied. In any doubt? Think about the wording ‘Old Master’: the very language has built women out.

But most great artists and composers are men, just look in museums, concert halls… jazz greats?  

 
There are many cultural reasons why throughout history, women have not had equal opportunity to produce work: in the 19th century, while the wealthy male impressionists had carte blanche to portray almost any cultural environment they did not belong (girl’s ballet lessons, washerwomen working), any woman even walking alone in the street or countryside was considered to be sexually promiscuous (for what other reason would there be for her to be there?) Women were painting: some as well as the best men of their times, but their access to subjects and exhibitions was limited. The title of the work below by Berthe Morisot is typical: male artists got unlimited voyeurism throughout society, women got confinement: peering at the details of their own world from within.
English language school talks art Berthe-Morisot
‘The Artist’s Daughter Julie with her Nanny,’ by Berthe Morisot 1884
 
For many decades, public museums have been lobbied to present a healthier ratio of male to female artists (say, why not one that represents society for example, which is near enough a 50/50 split).
English language school talks art Guerrilla Girls billboard
Iconic Guerrilla Girls billboard poster from 1989

Our English Language School Talks Art and discusses if it’s working?

 If you were in our language class, we’d be discussing this and sharing examples (our English language school talks art whenever we get a chance!).

But perhaps yes. Once overlooked artworks are now given a more prominent placing in public art institutions (and there’s an ever-inflating bidding war as collections attempt to mask their earlier omissions).
 

Most importantly, more and more we see an equal balance in the work of contemporary artists being presented and female curators being employed: exclusively male genius is a myth which may take another generation to die out, but at least within the western art world change is moving in the right direction.

 

Prove it!

We will look at the statistics of the Turner Prize in a moment, but first a quick introduction to the most famous British art prize. Named after the English painter JMW Turner, the Turner Prize is awarded to ‘British visual artists under the age of 50 each year’, with one overall winner selected from 4 nominees. The 4 are assessed on their global art practice, but the nomination includes an exhibition within part of the Tate, which draws large crowds and media hype. It’s not truly a cross-section of British art as it has always leaned towards the more sensationalist “conceptual bullshit“, as 2002 Culture Minister Kim Howells once described it.
English language school talks art Damian Hirst
Mother and Child (Divided), by Damian Hirst, 2007
 
The Turner Prize is frequently criticised for its lack of figurative painting and its adoration of the absurd, which is to some an intolerably jarring contrast with its namesake, the ‘master’ Turner. However, the almost guaranteed publicity, ticket sales and salivating media keep the show ticking on.
 
Personally I almost always love the artists it showcases but find the inevitable faux outrage of the public and media distasteful, sinister and deeply damaging to art contemporary. In the modern days of cyberbullying, it’s a poison chalice that not every artist is strong enough to take, and I’m not sure that even the concept of ‘best artist’ is even still tenable. (In 2019, the 4 nominated artists petitioned to share the prize without having a winner declared.)
 
The same British public so happy to clutch their pearls in horror at Turner Prize artworks, such as Tracy Emin‘s ‘My Bed, have coffee table books of Impressionist paintings, including depictions of prostitutes by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.
 
The exquisite paintingAlone depicts a prostitute, exhausted, vulnerable, the rumpled bed and her disassociation with her own body suggest the violence of what just happened to her.
 
Tracy Emin on the other hand is completely in control of what she chooses to share with us: a similar tatty and dishevelled bed scene: but there’s no vulnerable prostrated female here (the is absence highlighted by a tangled pair of tights, perhaps a reference to this painting).
 
Tracy Emin takes the male assumptions of female space, voyeurism and femininity and kicks them out of the park. The agency is all hers, and it is this which offends her critics (get back in your place, woman! Hide your real self, conceal your power: it offends me).
English language school talks art Tracey Emin My Bed
English language school talks art Alone [Seule], Toulouse Lautrec
Alone [Seule], Toulouse Lautrec, 1896 and My Bed, by Tracy Emin, 1999

 By 2018* only 9 female artists had won the Turner Prize out of the total of 32 years it had run.

However, if you examine the statistics for the last decade in detail (link below), the prize has almost achieved parity in terms of nominees, winners – and equally importantly – also judges.
 
So if institutions within the visual art world are revising their own history, and perceptions changing, is this true across other art forms?
 
Not nearly as much. I was listening to a BBC Radio show, pithily called J to Z (it’s a jazz show!), with drummer Terri Lynne Carrington describing her musical inspirations. I transcribe (below) everything she says about the Aretha Franklin track, The Brand New Me’ as I loved hearing her talk about it, as the track played she described its various elements.
 
When the piano solo begins, she points out just how amazing a pianist Aretha Franklin was, and if the times hadn’t automatically relegated her to being a singer, Terri Lynne Carrington wonders just what she could have achieved as a pianist.
YouTube link: Aretha Franklin, The Brand New Me’
“So the first track that I’ve chosen in by Aretha Franklin, ‘The Brand New Me‘, with her recent passing (it feels recent still to me) I really wanted to include one of her songs and this song is special to me because its one of the songs I fell in love with as a kid, because of the jazz flavour it has and my dad used to play it a lot in our house, and I love how the drums start like this knocking rimshot and it stays like that throughout much of the song, helping to create the same sense of urgency.
 
What’s really interesting is I really love the piano solo at the end, it’s the thing that stood out to me the most as a child, and it wasn’t until recently, in the last few years that I realised that it was her playing the piano.
 
I always say that there’s been an underlying narrative – especially in jazz – that men play the instruments and women sing. So I think about Sarah Vaughan and Carma McRae and Shirley Horn who were all great pianists who could accompany themselves and I often think about if the times were different would they have played more – or even pursued that instead. And you can really hear the jazz in her, you know, she was a big jazz fan and obviously made jazz records singing especially early on in her career.
 
But when you hear this piano solo, you can really hear that same thing, that she could probably have continued as a pianist without even singing! I can hear the Erroll Garner influence in her piano playing, the block chords playing behind the beat and some of the trills. I’d just never realised how great a piano player Aretha Franklin was. The fade happens and it’s just at the point you want to hear more”.
Terri Lynne Carrington,
Sat 6 Feb, 2021
Find out more about this broadcast here.

 This astonishing thought pointed me to the website Women in Jazz to learn more.

“Only 5% of Jazz instrumentalists are women in the UK today – we’re here to change that”.

A collaboration between Women in Jazz and Soho Radio has produced 12 radio show interviews with musicians (hint: and a fantastic listening exercise for English language learners interested in culture!).
English language school talks art Soho Radio
Screenshot of Women in Jazz Radio interview archive, Soho Radio website
Outdated notions of talent and genius need to be updated, and musicians and music lovers are making it happen.
 

“In our first year, we built an online community of 6k people, programmed 6 sell-out live events, 12 radio shows and a range of DJ and music business workshops for emerging Artists”.

Women in Jazz website
 

 

So what should I listen to this International Women’s Day?

 
Across the public institution of the BBC, there will be shows featuring and promoting female talent, however, I would suggest you join me in listening to the much funkier Radio Soho International Women’s Day Festival.

 

English language school talks art Radio Soho International Women's Day Festival.

“With over 60 shows from our female presenters and DJs over the three days, we are celebrating, discussing, playing, highlighting, empowering and showcasing females from across the globe, with shows from the UK, NYC and Australia”.

Soho Radio,2021

“2018: the year women changed the world with the #MeToo Movement”

 

Amal Omari, Radio Soho, 8th March, 2021
Is the long struggle nearing its end? – Amal Omari discusses this with female musicians on her show. Perhaps it is true that the #MeToo movement has gained ground for women’s place in the creative arts which can never again be lost: In every creative discipline the sisters are making it happen at the grassroots level – shaking the cultural institutions (including that of language) into change.

What can I do?

 
Here are 4 ways to help change happen:
 
Buy a record from a living female artist on Bandcamp here.
 
Follow Women in Jazz on Instagram here.
 
Listen to Radio Soho’s 3-day-long Women’s Day festival here.
 
Keep educating yourself, keep learning and keep listening!

Live language learning! 

YouTube link: Terri Lyne Carrington & Dianne Reeves, ‘Extended Drum Solo – Part 1

Blue Noun English Language Challenge

We hope you’ve enjoyed it when your English language school talks art. We cover a broad range of topics in our blogs – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture. There’s something for everyone.

If you’ve liked this blog, you might want to read about when our ‘Art and Design English Course Talks Sculpture,’ in an  interview with artist June McEwan here.

Your Blue Noun English Language Challenge is:

Use the comment section below to tell us about: the last piece of music you bought by a living female artist. 

Write as much as you like, and if you would like us to check &  correct your English, write CP  (correct please) at the end. 

 

Live language learning!

 

“The last piece of music you bought by a living female artist.

English language school talks art Kate Tempest
Here’s mine (any excuse to buy a record!).  It’s Kate Tempest, The book of Traps and Lessons.  
Blue Noun are a small, alternative and independent English Language School in Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland. We specialise in helping international professionals across all creative industries, develop spoken language skills and fluency through a personalised immersive language holiday.

Our small teaching team coach you in a mini-group (maximum 4 learners) in the mornings and take you on a schedule of tours, introductions, guest presentations and complementary activities each afternoon: we also have social events in the evening. It’s all designed to be both an introduction to Scottish and British culture and a fun, creative way to pick up and practice English language skills.