Creativity as therapy, by @rae_ritchie_

Cross-posted from: Rae Ritchie
Originally published: 04.04.18
Creativity_Primary.jpegThe BBC’s Get Creative festival is a welcome attempt to encourage participation in pastimes that are proven to support wellbeing, as mental health practitioners have long recognised.

With its gentle piano music and lingering shots of hands working pins and needles, MAKE! Craft Britain could only be a BBC Four documentary.

MAKE! Craft Britain was a three part series featuring craft novices trying activities such as rug-making, letter-pressing, silver jewellery making and cross stitch (all three episodes are available in the UK on the BBC I-Player).

Few other television channels would risk such long scenes without any narration or dialogue for fear that the audience would drift away.  ….


The full text of this article is available here. 


Rae Ritchie:  I blog mainly about history and women’s magazines, with more creeping in on contemporary magazines than I’d expected, and most definitely consider myself (and my writing) to be a feminist.

street art photos: for Vera who asked me why and made me think what to do with it (again)

Cross-posted from: Jacqueline Herranz

i started taking street art photos for a very urgent reason: to learn about space in this city where i am an alien (last 4 digits of alien#: 1868). i took them in the streets because i have always had a fascination with space: i have no skills to manage time. everyone knows how easy is to lash out (whatever this means) and how pragmatic could be application of self-control and focus on a project, so I tried to concentrate and think about image that “happens” through space as a rewarding result since it produces emotion. so, i took street art pictures to be able to understand my needs for visual signs. i didn’t want to mimic straight photography neither “masculinize” my flicks by rendering an (en)vision of a person in control of the process. i have always like accidents and/ or coincidental (un)coordinations. i wanted (still have no other choice) to work with accessible tools as well. at the end, everything seems to revolve around access to material, and access to time.  most of the time for these street photos i have used mass mediatized best seller mid-lower-than-high resolution bodies in a combo with plastic travel size trashy lenses that are slow and most of the time cannot get the light right: these are perfect for loosing it and make me think that i can do it.

so i took my chances and was inspired by a couple of radical readings i stumbled upon lately: Vera photography collection and interest in getting personal through urban images (basic space), Olesya’s master compositions in her presentation of T-Aviv journy (donate yourself), Artem’s classic idea of circulation and illustrated literature zines (Flores Violetas), two email messages from my friend Alejandro and his kind review of my latest novel, Moyra Davey’s essay for her limited edition book The problem with reading, and my latest communication with Margaret Vendryes, who has been working on multiplicity of signs and building fiction along with constructing memory objects.

These photos i am planning to hang on a flickr account, as soon as time allows, are part of my extra-large virtual street art collection. The one I did build with the help of streetfiles, one of the most openly democratic projects I have seen online, full of misogynistic oriented spoil vandals and homophobic kids and the best part: very serious artists and fine street art collectors from whom I have been learning about the street art esthetics. Now that streetfiles is dead, I can dwell and swell in the anxieties of withdrawal and reuse my pics.

Delancy Street. Lower East Side. Three Trucs.
Kodak tx 400 expired film.


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Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks is currently working on her PhD dissertation on Auto(r)fiction at theGraduate Center, City University of New York. Her most recent projects are Lyrics of the Streets, where she pastes texts onto walls or abandoned objects around NYC; and Vicious Reading, where she photographs texts anonymously placed on urban spaces where minority communities are being displaced due to gentrification. She is the author of Liquid Days (TribalSong, Argentina, 1997), Escenas Para Turistas (Campana, NY, 2003), Mujeres Sin Trama (Campana, NY, 2011) and Viaje en Almendrón (Installation book for Gallery Miller, JCAL, 2015)


Fifty Images – 4.02 by @skybluepink

Cross-posted from: Sky Blog Pink
Originally published: 25.09.16

My photographs remind me that there have been moments when I have been truly present in my life.

Looking through them reveals my choices, my treasures and the things that draw me to record my experiences; my ongoing interests and minor obsessions . Wait ’til you see my thing for benches!

Photographs of Art that I have made, literally records my mark upon the world and how I shape the things I perceive. I am fascinated by the way the human form expresses feeling – I go back time and again to explore this. The mannequin below sat on or near my desk until I got brave enough to draw it. 
Read more Fifty Images – 4.02 by @skybluepink

A small and pleasing discovery (possibly?) about Sir Gawain by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.10.16


I’ve somehow never written this post about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – the poem that is many people’s first encounter with the gorgeous poetic language and spellbinding storytelling of medieval England – though I’ve been wondering about a minor detail I’ve noticed in the poem, for a while. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the late fourteenth century, somewhere in the West Midlands to judge by the dialect, and it survives in a single manuscript along with three other works by the same writer: two religious poems and a long, very beautiful and very evocative dream-vision about mourning and loss. All of these poems – but especially Gawain and Pearl – show a fascination with symmetry and number-patterns, and there are any number of complicated interlocking sequences of pairs and triplets and fivefold symmetries, as well as concentric circular structures of narrative and verse form.
Read more A small and pleasing discovery (possibly?) about Sir Gawain by @LucyAllenFWR

Violet, the Vocabulary Dragon, by @skybluepink

Cross-posted from: Sky Blog Pink
Originally published: 10.12.15

One of my great passions is Big Junk Art – I just love cardboard. So when Holywell school gave me the go ahead for a Big Art Project at the end of term; I was thrilled.


After laying out a rough framework of boxes, I set to work with the gaffer tape and rolls and rolls of masking tape – in fact I realised, at the end of the project, that I had used the entire schools supply!

Once the skeleton was reasonably firmly fixed together and safe from the enthusiasm of the year one and two children, we embarked on the next stage of fleshing out. This needed a pile of another expensive resource – newspaper.

I was lucky that a big group of year 4 girls were happy to help during their lunch hour, as the end of term was looming. They were an efficient team – some scrunching the newspaper into balls others attaching it with the masking tape. Piece by piece the beast began to take shape. 
Read more Violet, the Vocabulary Dragon, by @skybluepink

Fear and Focal Images by @skybluepink

Cross-posted from: Sky Blog Pink
Originally published: 20.12.15

How time can be an Artists best Friend…

Blagion Whole picture

I can’t remember when I started this painting, several months ago  I think. I created a collage background and added layers of sprayed stencils, painting and doodling but just didn’t finish it.

I was sorting through my basket of collage materials and found the background painting in there a couple of days ago. I was really only looking for a couple of scraps to stick down to begin a new piece.

As I looked at it I noticed a shape – pretty much the one that eventually became the bear/lion/ gorilla creature that ended up there. And I was really quite excited to have a go at bringing the creature to life.


Sometimes, putting a focal image (the main subject of a painting) into one of my backgrounds is a bit of a block for me – I get to the end of creating a background that I really like and I am scared of ‘spoiling it’.

With this background, I had made it so long ago that I couldn’t even remember when it was. It was really freeing – as if some kind person had started a piece and left it there for me to play with.

I now have a piece that I really enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong, every time I look at it I can see something I could improve but this piece gives me a warm feeling. I love the way the face turned out. And I might just go back for another fiddle!

As a very wise man said:

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Leonardo da Vinci

So can you give me any of your best discoveries for tackling the fear factors in your creative practice? Please do share.

The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn by @FeministVibes

Cross-posted from: Is my gender showing?
Originally published: 13.02.15
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I’ve been feeling low lately, with all the terrible news stories of the last few days, and I wanted to write about something that makes me happy.So here it is.

I got my new Tarot Deck today!

I’ve had the Dark Grimoire, (a Lovecraft inspired deck) for a few years and they are beautiful. I wanted them because they’re so dark and dreadful, but dark and dreadful isn’t the right mindset for me when I’m doing a reading, it makes me anxious. So I started looking for a new deck, I looked for Months and couldn’t find anything that even came close to what I wanted, then I found The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn, illustrated by Margaret Trauth.

It’s bright, it’s vibrant and it’s beautiful. It immediately appealed to the child, the nerd and the feminist in me. I stumbled across the Justice card and that was enough for me to order it straight away. She’s standing tall, strong and beautiful. And what is she looking at, anyway? Something she’s fought, or something she has yet to fight?

It was released in 2011, and seems to have attracted a group of readers who immediately loved it. I avoided looking up too much about it- I wanted a surprise when it arrived, and it turns out The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn is a massively unconventional deck.

It has extra cards , including three fools, each one representing a different cycle in her life. It has a whole extra ‘Void’ suit, to represent ‘where we aren’t’ The next life, a parallel Universe, anywhere but here. Whichever way it’s drawn, it’s read as a sideways card, there is no upright and no reversed.
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At first I was a little worried about remembering which fool was which, but the styles are so different it makes it easy, all the cards are so different that even if you’ve never picked up a deck before, I don’t think the extra cards would be too difficult to work with straight away.

The cards are much smaller than the average Tarot deck, which I adore. I have pretty small hands and when reading a normal deck I sometimes find my hands start to hurt, which can be off-putting. These are close to average playing card size and fit nicely in my hands, though they may be a little too small for those with big hands.

Another thing I loved (LOVED) was all the women in this deck, I haven’t spent much time with it yet, so I can’t remember every card, but I only recalled seeing one or two men as I went through and looked at the cards. It’s very much a female dominated deck. The emperor is a woman, Death is a woman. It’s a deck full of powerful women. That wins it big points in my book.
Even the box is beautiful. It’s a flip box, with space for the cards and the book (which is pretty large, considering it includes the new card explanations too) A quick-view of the suits are on the inside lid, making for easy viewing.
The Void cards are beautiful, they’re black and sort of embossed. It’s really hard to see in a photo, you have to hold them up to the light to see the subtle pictures. They include illustrations such as this, the Starseed, a 2001 inspired card depicting our soul, our next life, our origins. I love that it’s a super cute dinosaur.
dinoMany of the cards are almost glittery, too. The twinkle when you tilt them back and forth in the light. It’s a beautiful affect and the embossing somehow makes them seem more solid. They’re a little thicker than the average card because of this, which makes me less worried about bending and creasing them.

I find it’s so much easier to tell the story when reading from a deck which is full of creativity and colour, I struggle with some of the older and more conventional decks because I find them boring and sometimes a little lifeless. With this you don’t have to rely on the subtle hints to tell a story, the tools on the Magicians table or the plants The Empress cares for. The characters are neck deep in their own stories, and you’re just happening to see a small glimpse of it when you’re looking at the cards.They aren’t static figures fixed in time waiting for you to read them, and I find that makes a big difference.

My Favourite card.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 07.55.19We all have that one special card that we identify with, no matter what the deck. Mine is the 10 of wands, so I was hoping that it would be good. It didn’t disappoint. It’s probably the most beautiful in the entire deck, though I might be a little biased. I have never been a believer that money can buy happiness, I’ve seen people so obsessed with material gain that they have lost everything that’s important to them. Wealth doesn’t further our knowledge, it doesn’t nurture our soul. If anything it can take us backwards, while we stifle and destroy our purpose in the hopes of having a bigger car and a bigger house. The 10 of wands shows that perfectly, it shows the wide-eyed, hopeful apprentice finally achieving what they worked so hard for, they are wealthy, important- they are the head of an empire. But they are unhappy. They stand, staring out at everything they have, everything they own, but they are alone. It’s an important warning, or an even more important harsh truth.

The Tarot Of The Silicon Dawn is truly the most beautiful, inspired deck I have ever been lucky enough to stumble across. It is bold, inspiring and a must have for any witch out there with nerd tendencies, and I am already totally in love with it.


Is My Gender ShowingI’m an animal, people and tree hugging ecofeminist. Sporadic fiction writer and freelance journalist with a new blog, Is My Gender Showing? about all areas of feminism with a focus on objectification, gender roles and mental health. I also from time to time document my adventures with No More Page 3 Leeds and Yorkshire Feminista. I can be on Twitter found at @feministvibes

Vesta, Persephone, Ana Mendieta: Sacred Altars Re-visited by @rebecca9

Cross-posted from: The Daly Woolf
Originally published: 15.10.15


I am intrigued by asteroids. Peculiar asymmetrical floating formations of carbon, stone, and metal. Piles of streaming space rubble, some astronomers conclude. There are literally thousands (and more being discovered) of these eccentric objects in orbit around the sun ranging in size from pebbles to hundreds of miles of surface. Their home is called the asteroid belt, that celestial territory between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers conjecture that asteroids are the leftover material of our solar system, or the fractured remains of what was once a planet, but they don’t know for sure. The four major asteroids (major because of their size) are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, Hygiea; allegorically symbolized in the astrological literature as females with mythological roots in the Roman and Greek storied timeline.

Most astrologers don’t often include the asteroids in readings, partly, I think, because so little is known about them. The Dawn Spaceprobe has been orbiting the asteroid belt for about eight years now so we can expect to hear much more about the features and mechanics of the main asteroids.

Modern astronomers with their Uranian cache of prodigious technological wizardry and mechanistic mental mainframes can’t  provide us with the links to understand the deeper meaning and signification of these astonishing cosmic asteroidal actors. We are immensely fortunate though to have in our arsenal of historical reverie and scholarship the few books that do bring the asteroids into narrative relevance. Demetra George’s The Asteroid Goddesses is most famous. Yet, hereto, once again the myths lead us around the amiable, well manicured, predictable grounds of the Father’s House. Imprinted in the psyche are the usual tractable, complimentary female, archetypically tedious characters with their patriarchal stamp of approval: Consorts, Divinely Feminine Hearth Keepers, Critical Feminine Warriors sprung from Daddy’s Head (critical of who and what we should ask), and The Steadfast Domestically Satiated Goodly Wife. Never are we let to stray too far from those  Gardens of Heaven and the often gruesome violence meted to those who stray out of bounds.
Read more Vesta, Persephone, Ana Mendieta: Sacred Altars Re-visited by @rebecca9

Frida Kahlo by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 05.06.15

I’m currently suffering from the twin nightmares of severe period pain and EDS pain, my body feels utterly cripple by pain. Just typing this hurts, but I feel like I need to turn this pain in to something constructive, and it got me thinking about one of my idols – Frida Kahlo.

I knew about her and liked her art, but didn’t know a great deal about her life when I watched the film Frida. The film was a real eye opener for me, and also hugely inspirational.

This painting is one of my favourite Kahlo paintings, if you’ve read about my health problems you should be able to see instantly why.
Read more Frida Kahlo by @MurderofGoths

A Significant Miniature: the work of Shazia Sikander

(Cross-posted from Collage)

Collage loves the work of Shazia Sikander. The Lahore born artist’s study of the traditional techniques for painting Persian portraits has led to an exceptional body of of internationally exhibited work which ranges from miniatures to large scale paintings and animations. You can find more information on herwebsite and this article by Hilarie M. Sheets on ArtNews is an excellent introduction to her work.

A murky black rectangle glistens and undulates on the screen of Shahzia Sikander’s laptop as the artist shows a visitor to her New York studio a passage from her animation in progress. Gradually, the field seems to disintegrate into a

the scroll sikander detail

 dense accumulation of irregular black marks that vanish one by one. Viewers familiar with Sikander’s work may recognize that these seemingly abstract black shapes are in fact precise renderings of the stylized hairdo of the Gopi women—worshippers of the Hindu god Krishna, whom Sikander often depicted in her miniature paintings from the 1990s. The hairdos have reappeared, disembodied, in many of the animations that set her repertoire of painted imagery in motion, including SpiNN (2003), in which the hair rises from the women’s disappearing bodies and takes flight in a menacing swarm that invades an imperial Mughal court.

“I found the hair had this wonderful silhouette that, if you turned it around, could look like bats or birds—that was a very exciting moment in animation for me,” says Sikander.(click here to read more)


Collage: Art, Culture, Gender: Collage is a blog & on-kind magazine about art and culture. I review mostly work by women artists and other reviews/articles are written with a gendered perspective.

Tracey Emin, being more like a man is not the answer at Writing All Wrongs

(cross-posted from Writing all Wrongs)

The other day, I asked myself the following question: “Is it anti-feminist of me to think that Tracey Emin is full of shit?”

She was on the radio talking about her belief that it’s not possible to be an artist and a mother, which you probably know about because lots of Guardian sort of people have written comment pieces saying “Stop being silly Tracey, yes it is.” Although to be specific, she didn’t say you can’t be an artist and a mother, but that if you have children you’ll never be truly great because you won’t be able to dedicate yourself 100% to the creative process.

The first thing I thought was just how totally self-absorbed the whole thing sounded. Can’t have kids cos you’ve got to dedicate yourself 100% to the creative process? Can you make dinner and go to the toilet and stuff or does that get in the way of the art as well?

But then when she said “There are good artists that have children. They are called men,” I thought, well exactly Tracey, you’re bang on the money, sorry for doubting you and everything. But the problem I have with her beliefs, and a lot of the counter-arguments, is that the onus is always on women to sacrifice things or adapt their lives to fit around everything else.

We all know that women who choose not to have children constantly end up justifying their choices. Emin used the word ‘selfish’ as she talks about not having them; that old chestnut. I do think there’s something feminist in Emin’s decision to say, ‘I’m going to put myself first, like men do, and not apologise for it, because men don’t.’

Because I’ve never heard a famous man describing himself as selfish for choosing not to have children. Because that’s the thing about this: men just get on with doing whatever the fuck they what to, without thinking about how their decisions impact on anyone else. Because why should they? They’ve never been taught any different. They’re born into a world that teaches them that they are entitled to be in charge of everyone and treat women like objects and drive cars really fast. (No, there is still not a female version of Top Gear where women rub their thighs while making racist jokes. INEQUALITY SUCKS.) And just like Emin says, they can be 100% focused on their creative process because throughout history they haven’t had to bother with all that silly domestic stuff.

She’s totally right. There are more men in the canon because they were allowed to just get on with it and it was never questioned. They didn’t have kids tugging at their leg while they were trying to do painting and shit, because the women were sorting all that stuff out. It’s a bit fucking unfair.

But is this really the answer? That women should be more like men? Ergo, they should be self-absorbed and not give a shit about anyone else and just spend all their time naval-gazing and making art?

Of course I don’t really think that art is synonymous with naval-gazing. You know I love it and am obsessed with it. But isn’t this the reason why, in the sense of representing real experience, so much art and literature is, on closer inspection, completely inadequate? It comes from such a tiny, small, privileged prism that it ends up being the voice of an elite minority masquerading as the voice of all human experience.

Why, instead, can men not be the ones to adapt? Why should Tracey Emin feel like having children will be akin to sacrificing her career as a great artist? (You might think she’s shit, I don’t really have an opinion.) How has that become a thing? Rather than the onus always being on the woman to look after children all the time, why can men not pull their fingers out of their arseholes and take some of the responsibility?

(Disclaimer: not all men etc etc. Disclaimer 2: not judging anyone’s personal choices, have kids if you want, don’t if you don’t etc etc.)

I don’t actually think that going into a secret little solitary art cave will make you a very good artist, because I think one of the most important things about art is its power to provide empathy. Emin is doing an individualistic political ‘I am an artist on my own terms I have painted myself like a French girl’ type thing (MOVE OVER ADRIAN SEARLE I’M AN ART CRITIC) and that’s fine, but I don’t think that we should go inward just because men do. I think men should come outward.

Because why on earth should Tracey Emin have to feel like the only way to get close to a sense of self is to shut everything else down? Why has it become accepted wisdom that if female artists want to be seen on the same level of greatness as men, they have to give things up – but men can just carry on as they are?

It’s worth mentioning Grayson Perry’s excellent essay on the Default Man here, which everyone has already read because it’s excellent: he says that if positions of power are going to be shared out equally, some men are going to have to give up their seats. He quoted Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to make the world adapt to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

So men I think you need to get adapting. That way, Emin can focus 100% on her creative process and have some sprogs if she wants to. If she doesn’t want to, that’s fine. But she needs to feel like being a supercilious introspective egomaniac isn’t the only option available to her.


Girl Ignited: Sassy political rants from a very cheerful feminist. Twitter is @jessiecath

Picturing Frida at I am because you are: Trying to Decolonise My Mind

(Cross-posted from Roseanna Star)

461296Frida : a biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a long book of a rather short life: Frida Kahlo was injured in a traffic incident when she was eighteen and spent the rest of her life in pain and ‘invalidism’. Regardless of this, her persona was so vibrant and vital that her magnetism outshone her vivid, charismatic work, and if she had lived thirty more years the book would doubtless be three hundred pages longer.

But it would have been completely different. Frida would probably not have begun to paint if she had not been immobilised for many months after her accident, and if she had not been made unable to have children, she would have had them. And so she would not have painted her physical pain and her frustrated longing.

I enjoyed Herrera’s descriptive interpretations of Frida’s paintings and only rarely felt she had gone too far in taking them literally or carrying her own idea further than was justified. My highlight was her rejection of the inclusion of Frida in the Surrealist movement. Herrera unlines the cultural and individual specificity of Frida’s work and the personal authenticity of its non-realistic elements. Her work perhaps owes something to Mexical socialist realism and Latin@ Catholic iconography (the ‘naive’ ex-voto tradition is clearly an influence) but not to self-indulgent European navel-gazing. Herrera explains why Surrealism gained little traction in Mexico:

Mexico had its own magic and myths and did not need foreign notions of fantasy. The self-conscious search for subconscious truths that may have provided European Surrealists with some release from the confines of their rational world and ordinary bourgeois life offered little enchantment in a country where reality and dreams are perceived to merge and miracles are thought to be daily occurrences

I also loved her eloquent writing about Frida’s dress and ‘costume’, which was obviously a hugely important part of her process of identity. Although Frida’s maternal grandfather was indigenous, she had a middle class settler Christian upbringing and dressing in tehuana clothing was a deliberate, political, and perhaps disingenuous act of appropriation, motivated, it seems, by Communist anti-imperialism, aesthetic appreciation and the desire to hide her right leg, which was damaged by childhood polio and became increasingly problematic, probably as her injuries put an end to her therapeutic habits of exercise.

It’s always hard not to see the life of an artist primarily through their work, but according to Herrera, in many periods of her life Frida painted little. She writes that Frida’s relationship to Diego was often more important to her sense of herself than her art. Some of Frida’s writing supports this, but I am uncomfortable with Herrera’s adhesion to the idea, especially as Frida often complained about Diego too. She had many correspondants, friends, and semi-secret lovers, and organised Diego’s life and finances as well as her own. While he floundered without her, however inattentive he could be (apparently he lived for his work; unlike Frida he seems to have painted compulsively from childhood), she seems entirely capable of independence.

Diego was always unfaithful, but while he apparently tolerated Frida’s lesbian affairs, he seemed to be typically macho about her heterosexual ones, which she kept secret. Herrera gives far more attention to these associations with men, although affairs and intimacies with women may have been at least as important to Frida. But perhaps she did not write to her women lovers, or the letters have not come into the public realm, as those written to men have. I usually feel that biographers of bisexual women are annoyingly dismissive in this way: lesbian affairs do not count, just as they didn’t for Diego.

Frida and Diego were ardent Communists, and as world communism shifted and strained their allegiances were juggled too. But they retained the original impulse towards the rights of the people, towards leftist revolutionary and anti-imperialist politics. Frida was frustrated that she could not make political art, but Diego reassured her that her work was a worthwhile political contribution. Later in life, she became a teacher and led students in creating murals for a pulqueria and a women’s laundry. It was fun to read her scornful opinion of European bohemians who ‘did no work’ and spent all their time in idle talk. A message to Euro-USian hipsters not to co-opt Frida as ‘one of us’.

I am because you area bookworm trying to decolonise my mind

Women and Folk Art in the Eyes of Male Artists: Yet more Cultural Femicide by @LucyAllenFWR



(cross-posted with permission from Reading Medieval Books)



This post isn’t my idea, but came about when I read a comment by the brilliant Bee Jones earlier today.

She wrote:

“I have just watched The Culture Show on catch-up. All about a Tate exhibition of Folk Art. The introduction explained that it was going to focus on the real lived democracy of art which has always existed outside the art establishment. Great, I thought, this will be celebrating the explosion of women’s creativity we see every day, all over social media etc etc…but NOPE. You’ve guessed it, the programme didn’t feature a single woman artist, or even mention that women have long been underappreciated for their talent, despite being EVERYWHERE making beautiful things. So this post is about celebrating the fantastic women who regularly astonish me with their creative skills. Please feel free to share this and add your own.”

I think this is a great idea.

I’ve just watched the programme she’s referring to – it’s up for another week, so feel free to check it out if you particularly wish to be patronized by a couple of blokes. They start out with some working definitions of folk art, before oh-so-hilariously ‘insulting’ each other by applying the term to their own work. From this, we moved on to the Tate’s Folk Exhibition, which is open through the summer. There’s a nice review of the exhibitionhere.

Our two presenters, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, stared at the first display, which was absolutely fascinating: a wall of objects once used as shop signs, and ranging from a beautiful, giant gilded key, to a teapot marked with fading lettering, to a pair of humble shoes. Apparently, all of this was very funny. “Anything that’s bigger or smaller than it should be is automatically funny,” commented Deller, begging a reference to Freud. After this, “we’re off to Blackpool, perhaps the spiritual home of British folk art today,” and I began to sense a pattern. The presenters explained they were looking for anything they liked the look of, “anything that makes us laugh,” basically. Here we got our first glimpse of women: as the voiceover wittered on about folk ritual, the camera lingered on a middle-aged woman wiggling her bum cheekily at us. Oh, these Northerners and their down-to-earth folk humour! Stopping by a stall selling fake tattoos, Deller tried his hand at the popular voice, explaining, “these tattoos, they’re basically like Warhols … I think, for me, that’s like what artists do, they take something from popular culture and do something with it”. It was about as convincing as David Cameron trying to tell us he, like, thinks that Inbetweeners show is more or less Shakespeare.

Everything to do with folk art, we were told, was ‘fun’. Oh, such fun. A T-shirt, wittily printed with a sexist joke about wives and terrorists, obviously merited being included in all of the hilarity. Seriously, if you watch this bit, it comes with a health warning, because I think I have strained my eyebrow muscles from listening to these two pontificate about unselfconscious art while looking at a T-shirt reading ‘I beat anorexia’ they’d claimed as a ‘public art work’. Nothing so folksy as sweat-shop-produced misogyny.

I’m not going to go through the whole thing – you get the gist. It was massively patronizing, with one eye on the audience snickering along with the Proper Artists. Towards the end, I held out hope we’d left the snickering behind as both men, looking at sculptured figureheads, so far forgot themselves as to sound genuinely impressed. But not for long: “it’s a classic figurehead, to have the top half person, bottom half boat … and maybe with one or two breasts exposed … preferably two! Hur hur”. One of Deller’s childhood highlights, we’re told, was a visit to the Cutty Sark, memorable for “a whole row of these topless women … I thought that was pretty cool!”

It’s perhaps no surprise, given the way this programme treated misogyny as ever so funny, that there wasn’t any discussion of women and folk art.

Back in the Tate exhibition, the presenters mentioned a woman’s name for the first time: Charlotte Alice Springall, who, with her husband-to-be Herbery Bellamy, pieced together a beautiful quilt in just one year (known, you’ll be shocked to discover, as ‘The Bellamy Quilt’). This was, apparently, very funny too: “they obviously didn’t work” sniggered the presenters, before moving swiftly on to discuss another group of people who made art (apparently), because they had nothing better to do: modern-day prisoners.

No, really. I’d say I found the juxtaposition telling of their impression of the restrictions of women’s lives, but I’m not sure they’d thought that deeply.

This was the point where I really got annoyed – because quilting is a hugely important form of folk art, which has historically been practised by women, and which has a very rich social as well as artistic history. Quilts often don’t survive, because textiles eventually wear out or rot, but the V&A tells me this quilt of the story of Tristram and Iseult was made c. 1360-1400. That’s a full century earlier than the most famous writtenEnglish version of the story, in Malory’s Morte Darthur.

In the past, women needed to make quilts – not because they ‘didn’t work,’ but because it was a practical way to recycle fabric and a necessary means of keeping warm. But they also turned quilting into an art form, as the York museum of quilting will show you. It’s only fairly recently that quilts have been treated seriously as art works. In the last century, for example, Lucy M. Boston (who also wrote beautiful children’s books)  declined to have her quilts exhibited at Kettle’s Yard Folk Museum in Cambridge, because she felt they were things to be used, not art to be exhibited.

In fact, barely five minutes had gone by, after Bee posted her response to this show, before women were swapping images of work they’d made. I’ve got permission to share this beautiful quilt, made by the author Cassandra Parkin.



And here’s the one she’s working on now:

quilt 2

Aren’t they beautiful?

I love Bee’s idea, and if you would like to add images or comments about women’s art – whether you’ve made it, your friend made it, or you just happen to love it, I’d enjoy that. And please consider sharing Bee’s post with people you know: we could discover some brand new women folk artists!

There is now a hashtag, Artbywomen, where you can share images, links or anything else you like about women’s art, especially women’s folk art. Enjoy!


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]

Just Why Were Renaissance Babies so Ugly? by @LeArtCorner

(cross-posted from Le Art Corner)

originally published 22.10.2013

Just Why Were Renaissance Babies so Ugly?

This excellent Tumblr is responsible for cementing the Ugly Renaissance Baby into popular imagination.

Before I read Ugly Renaissance Babies,  I had noticed that these babies looked just a bit fucking weird. But as everyone oohed and ahhed at Renaissance paintings so much, I felt that pointing out their disturbing oddness would render me some kind of philistine. Now that Ugly Renaissance Babies are out of the closet, let’s have a look at how they got so darn ugly.

St Nicholas Refusing his Mother's Milk

1. Context

Renaissance paintings weren’t there to look pretty on the living room wall. They were commissioned to live in high up in churches, glittering and  golden and striking awe and fear into the hearts of the lowly congregation who shuffled in metres below, raising their eyes to the almighty spectacle. Candlelight enhanced the effect, meaning that often all that was visible were the gold-encased silhouettes of the holy orders. Mary and Jesus would have been right at the top, of  course. So for a start, Renaissance painters had to go for extreme features that would stand out from a distance.

2. Symbolism

Renaissance babies weren’t always supposed to be realistic. Renaissance art is all about religious symbolism. The figures are meant to be awe-inspiring and other-worldly – the church was all about keeping society under control, and using art to cement the greatness of god, and the church, in people’s minds.

Wealthy patrons – i.e. the church, commissioned artists trusting that they would use a certain visual language; a symbolism that the common, illiterate churchgoer would be familiar with. Thus, Jesus was often depicted as a “little adult” to symbolise his precocious wisdom.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 18.17.52

More grown-up J-Crizzle. Madonna and Child. Duccio di Buoninsegna 1290–1300; Tempera and gold on wood

Albrecht Durer, Weeping Angel Boy, 1591

3. Realism

This one’s going to be controversial, but I’d argue that a good number of the Renaissance Babies aren’t especially misshapen, they’re just harshly true-to-life. Perhaps we expect people, including babies, in paintings to look a bit “enhanced.” Well the Renaissance artists obviously didn’t. I think they were just painting what they saw, without the need or inclination to apply any kind of “cute baby filter”.

4. WTF?

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Can anyone enlighten me?

1.Why is the boob so high up?


 2. Why does the baby have boobs?

Unknown Dutch Painter, 15th century, Virgin with Angels

3. Why?

Nature forging a baby.” Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, c.1490-c.1500.


Le Art Corner: I blog about fine art. Twitter: @LeArtCorner & Facebook

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