Germaine Greer discusses the book "The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work"
BROADCAST: Nov. 1, 1979 | DURATION: 00:51:44
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Studs Terkel "Why aren't there more women painters?" That's a question often asked. It is a false question, says Germaine Greer, who has just finished, done a quite remarkable book called "The Obstacle Race" as the study of -- it's the history of painting indeed through the eyes of women and the role they have played and haven't played, at least -- history, suppressed as it is in many aspects, has told us little about women and painting and art. And the book's quite powerful, and Farrar, Straus Giroux the publishers. [pause in recording] So where do we begin? Germaine Greer. The book. Now, the question, the obvious question. As you say in the beginning, it is a false question. But why aren't there, why so few women painters, or certainly those of stature?
Germaine Greer Well, what most people mean when they ask that question is, you know, why haven't I heard of any women painters? And the answer to that is usually ignorance, as Dr. Johnson replied to the lady who asked him why he called the pastern a horse's ankle. But then, even when you go further than that, even when you say, "Well, there have been," and you can list 25 names without too much trouble, but then they say, "But were they truly great?" And then, if you're being straight with yourself, you have to say, "Well, no, they weren't. They [are?] not influential in historical terms, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting." You might as well ask, and it has been asked, I guess, why there are no great Jewish painters, well, there's a prohibition in the Jewish religion, but that doesn't necessarily work. I mean, people have been known to defy
Germaine Greer But Jews and women appear at much the same time, and then people start make -- breaking the mold to making them new. In fact, there -- again, there are more Jewish painters than you think, because Jews, in order to get patronage, had to pretend to be Christians, and then you don't know how Christian they got. I mean, Anton Raphael Mengs, for example, was Jewish.
Germaine Greer Well, Anton Raphael Mengs was 18th century, and Anton Raphael Mengs is -- I think, Anton Raphael Mengs was really always Jewish, but his daughters who painted, one of them became a nun, and I think she was serious, and that she really became a Christian. So she was lost. She was no longer a Jew. Now we have these other problems that there are women in there that they're masquerading as men. I mean, they have to, because all the pictorial language that they're inheriting is masculine. So they start painting women as sex objects, you see, and they wonder why it lacks conviction. Not at all surprising.
Studs Terkel Well, let's go back to beginnings. The book, "The Obstacle Race," and the title itself tells us a good deal right there, "The Obstacle." Now, women in the Renaissance. We'll jump around and about, [not something?] chronological order. You speak of a certain eman-- a liberation of women during the Renaissance, generally speaking.
Germaine Greer Which, well, it's been overstated a lot. I mean, aristocratic women could learn the classics if they really wanted to, but nobody cared whether they did or not. So it's pretty much left to them, and we don't know how good they were, the ones who did read the classics. Elizabeth of England was quite a good student of
Germaine Greer Well, when it comes to painters, we've got, we're in a special situation because aristocrats don't make painters, and the working class doesn't make painters either. They come from the middle class, the artisan class, that already narrows our focus a bit. And you've got to remember, I think, that reproduction was the most important service a woman could offer the community at a time when most children died and their mothers died, too, and the population was menaced by famine and war, so the women were generally set aside for reproductive
Germaine Greer And one of the first Renaissance painters is Andreola des Baraques, who was a nun, which suggests another way out of the impasse. You could become a nun, but then all you have to do then is think about the convent and the kinds of stress that they would place upon your painting. It would only be one of your religious duties, and you'd carry it out in fealty to your superiors, and that's no way to turn into Michelangelo. I mean, you can't do it that way.
Studs Terkel At the time of, well, since you mentioned Mi-- at that time of Michelangelo. Okay. In your research, who were -- they were, was there a woman, women around? And were they un-- or, they some who were daughters and mistresses and wives of noted painters.
Germaine Greer Well, not really then. I mean, the high Renaissance is not a good time for women. They don't appear too much then, but you have to think what a painter's studio was like. I mean, they were all apprentices in it. There were boys from all ages from six to 26 I guess, and they were not allowed to marry. So it was pretty bawdy and it was like growing up in a gymnasium, really.
Studs Terkel Germaine, ask -- something rather interesting here. The high Renaissance time was not a good ti-- we think of this as a time of tremendous enlightenment and breakthrough, but for women particularly not. Why would that be?
Germaine Greer Well, for upper-class women, because people were dealing with a philosophical problem of what women could do, there was a bit more freedom, I think. But for women of the artisan class, the most important function they served was still a child-bearing marital function and very few Renaissance painters brought them into the studio. That's partly because the studio was an impossible place for them to be. And that all that happened in the studio was that she was likely to lose her reputation and become less marriageable. It was altogether more sensible to use
Studs Terkel What
Studs Terkel See, what you've done in this book, and I'm trying to not pin you down, but what you've done, you show there are certain influences in all the history of whether it's love, whether it be illusions, whether it be family that have kept women to some extent subordinate to the guys to whom they were committed. Or the father or husband
Germaine Greer Well, the problem is, you see, that the only women we have for the 17th and 18th centuries, well, the la-- yes, the 17th and early 18th, are women who were born into painting workshops, and they were already run by Daddy, and they painted because Daddy wanted them to. And that's no way to turn into a great painter, either.
Germaine Greer Well, they couldn't do anything else, because Daddy didn't want them to do anything else. He wasn't encouraging an independent development, he would have no use for it, even in his male students.
Germaine Greer Well, let me take a little time to tell that story, because it's so fantastic. Artemisia was the daughter of a, of a good painter, a friend of Caravaggio, called Orazio Gentileschi. They were Tuscans, but they were living in Rome.
Germaine Greer Yes, we're now, well, we're now into the decline of -- well, we're now into the 1590s, when she is born and growing up. And her father was a sort of, a sort of follower of Caravaggio, in some ways not, it was a very bohemian, rip-roaring society they lived in, in Rome, and Artemisia, at some point by her father was put to study with Agostino Tassi to study perspective. Now, Tassi was a really bad, he was really bad news, I think, I mean, he was extremely depraved and quite criminal, I think, and he raped her. And according to his own evidence, according to her evidence anyway, she drew blood and fought and what have you, I think she was in love with him even so, that's my feeling about it. And what happened was, he didn't marry her. He failed to come up with the goods in the Sicilian tradition in the same way it's done now, and as a result, her father sued for rape in the courts of Rome, the tribunal of the governor it's called, because of course, Rome was a religious city. And in the course of the trial, which went on for three months, off and on, she was publicly humiliated. She was tortured with a thumb screw, to test the truth of her evidence that she'd been raped, and Tassi defended himself by producing other people who said they'd had intercourse with her and that she was really a whore and that he didn't have to marry her at all, and it looks like he won because he was not sentenced to death. He wasn't even imprisoned. He was in prison during the trial, but then he got out, and all that meant was that Artemisia was disgraced, she also had a pair of ruined hands to work with. God knows how long it took her to cope with that, and she went away from her father, which was important, I think, anyway, I mean history is a bit dubious, on the point.
Germaine Greer Well, if she'd married Tassi, you see, she probably would have painted in his manner. She would've been his helper, but she couldn't marry Tassi, he didn't want her, and nobody else would marry her either.
Germaine Greer She did marry, but the husband seems to have been a bit of a cipher. And then she went to Florence and she studied there, and she became an independent artist of terrific reputation and enormous power. A lot of the power comes from anger and bitterness. There's no question about that.
Studs Terkel Artemisia Gentileschi, and it's "Judith Beheading Holofernes," as the apocryphal Jewish heroine is depicted in many way, but never so brutal and cold-blooded, and you got, as you point out here, we see what is obviously a masterpiece, but it's overwhelming in its horror. It's like two horrible cutthroats, are women just putting a knife through the throat of the guy.
Germaine Greer Well, you know that usually Judith is presented as very beautiful, very out of it. I mean, the Caravaggio picture of which this is a kind of parody shows Judith holding the sword with one little hand. And it's actually God's power that's driving the blade of the sword through Holofernes' neck. But in this case, you can see that it's Judith. She's really trying. You know how hard it is to cut a head off. It's really difficult, and all her muscles are standing out and her teeth are clenched, and she's sawing away at that head, and there's blood everywhere. The bit I like is the non-kosher bit of the blood on her breast, which is really terrible.
Germaine Greer Well, it was fantastic. I was in Bologna one grey day and I thought, "I'm, I just, I don't know if I can go on with this work." It was, I just thought every painting I'd got to was a terrible disappointment. You know how you expect to see -- and I went into this gallery and I was really on the point of giving everything up, and I looked up and there was this amazing picture which nobody's ever really understood. It was a picture of an ordinary, nice little man with big white clean hands and a rosy little face and shoe button eyes all dressed up as a knight of one of the papal orders, the orders of St. Lazarus and St. Theodore, and it was compassionate, ironic, grand, imposing, and painted in the most beautiful, transparent medium. And it was marvelous, I sort of stood there looking at this thing in the dim light of this gallery and I yelled out! You know, the great thing about Italy is you're allowed to yell out, and a custode, who was a woman, came, said, "What is it?" I said, "Come here!" And she came. I said, "Look, isn't that wonderful?" And we both stood there hugging each other, because this grand picture and then everything took off again. All my energy came back.
Studs Terkel And yet despite that, she's showing he's a nice, sweet guy, now you come across in our time a certain kind of guy, a good man, a businessman, a small businessman who's contributed dough to something good, and he's being honored, and a ritual, and they put a fancy hat on him, it looks kind of clownish. And yet, underneath that clownishness, there's a warm kind of person, that's what she did at that
Germaine Greer Yes, I think it's wonderful, and very few people have understood it, because they talk about it as a portrait of a powerful man. It's not a portrait of a powerful man at all, it's a portrait of a nice man who wants to be a powerful man and probably
Germaine Greer Well, we know more about her than most people. But even so, what is the oeuvre now? Something like 16 works. It's not enough. She worked all her life, 40 years painting, and the thing is that you have to examine everybody else's attributions, and you've got to do things that nobody wants you to do. And you can't arrive in it, in a museum and say, "Excuse me, I want to take your, let's say your Caravaggio, just for, for starters, out of its frame. I wanna have a look at it. I don't think it's a Caravaggio, I think it's something else." That's the last thing they want you to do. They're gonna pay your fare out of town, you
Germaine Greer She was recognized more -- you see, that's the other, that's the other thing. She was recognized more when she was young and sexy than she was when she was old and hard-working. Like most women, her career goes downhill around about middle age, and it got very tough at the end.
Studs Terkel But now we come to the double standard, the only time throughout, there's a recurring theme, and you speak of the best of critics, who were the worst of critics. You speak of Ruskin. In [other words?] and a double standard in that they admired the cute young "Oh, she's good for a sweet young girl." But then, as this, as the older woman emerges, tougher, not as attractive to these guys
Germaine Greer Well, it's not just because she's not recognized. You see, the problem is, if you take someone who really hasn't got a developed style or anything and tell them they've done it, "Here you are, here is first prize, it's yours," like they did with Angelica Kauffman, then
Germaine Greer I think he realized that the thing to do was to make a great fuss of Angelica. She would have been better for him, a better drawcard than he was. He was a mediocre painter, and she might be a mediocre painter, too, but as a little girl, she was gonna have more success. The thing is, she couldn't make up her mind. She wanted to be famous, but she didn't know if she's going to be a singer or a painter, which makes you worry right there. I mean, she's not powerfully inner-directed at the start.
Germaine Greer She was more successful. She made more money than he did, and she actually for a while, I mean, I think the relationship was an unequal one in a sense, and she also had more ambitious idea of what painting was about. She was a history painter, and he was a portraitist.
Germaine Greer Bad for her. You know, she became a fashionable success, and once that happens, if you haven't had very good grounding in the first place and you're not powerfully inner-directed, you get deflected from the development of your own genius.
Studs Terkel No, wait, no, I'm gonna, raise this, I know you're gonna object to it, I just want to raise it, my own thought here. Were she a male painter of her talent, limited or not, she'd have been more severely criticized, wouldn't she?
Germaine Greer Well, she'd have been ignored until she got better. Mind you, that may not follow either. She'd been very well trained, you know. She knew more about colors than the English did. She knew more about color than Reynolds did, he was a terrible colorist. All his paintings faded before the people faded. They used to say that if you were painted by Sir Joshua, your portrait would age before you did. She was a very good technician, and I think Reynolds learned something from her that way, because she'd been trained in Venice and in Rome.
Germaine Greer You know, it's like saying, "What would have happened if things hadn't happened, what would have happened if my father hadn't met my mother?" Well, I haven't got the faintest idea, then it stops right
Germaine Greer Well, you see, I think there are such things as traditional female arts, but I very much doubt whether there'd be an independent language in painting, because painting is so crazy, so curious. The thing I don't understand is why we've given painting such overriding value compared to other forms of art. Because we've made paintings now worth as much as small European states, and they've begun to salt them away on the earth as hedges against inflation, and
Studs Terkel See, the names we recognize as a woman, a name comes to mind of course, is Mary Cassatt and Rosa Bonheur, these are the two names come to mind, don't they? And yet Mary Cassatt's reputation, you imply, has gone down.
Germaine Greer Oh, do I? I'm not sure that I do. Mary Cassatt is a wonderful painter. But again, you can't argue for Mary Cassatt being an influential painter. She didn't influence anybody, but the paintings are practically perfect. They're very good soul food, they're wonderful.
Germaine Greer Well
Studs Terkel I'm giving you a takeoff on the -- all right, now here. In "Dimension," we're so accustomed to people use the word "monumental," "big," "huge," we don't think of women in that respect. You say there's another art.
Germaine Greer I said there are two sorts of aesthetic. There is a kind of painting that stands over you and intimidates you, that shouts at you, and then there's the kind of painting that says "Come closer. Look into me. Stand still. Think." Now, I happen to own a tiny Gwen John that I bought at auction, and it's the most intense thing. It just, it hangs on the wall. Every time I walk past it's like walking past a beam, a radar beam, because there it says, "Waste no time. Recollect. Work. Work. Work." All there, this ti-- and it's so simple, very narrow color range, very simple subject, but the intensity of the painting is incredible and it all comes from inside because the women couldn't go outwards, they had to travel inwards.
Germaine Greer Oh, yes. Well, there is that whole alternative aesthetic of minimal art and art which is much closer to people which doesn't mean that you have a carnivorous ego, that you sign a huge big green name at the bottom of the painting and give it extra value.
Germaine Greer "The true aesthetic quality, I believe," wrote Dame Laura Knight in her autobiography, "The true aesthetic quality, I believe to be found in uncluttered simplicity. On the ceiling of the famous Altamira cabin, there exist works of art defying comparison. The search for technical skill holds danger. Mere skill of hand work alone, necessary as it be, can by very pride of its possession kill truth. What matters -- what matters," sorry, "how much canvas can be cleverly covered. To the true artist is given the use of eye, hand and heart in so perfect a coordination as to enable freedom of individual expression. This being no mere imitation of subject matter speaks of the big in small, a smallness that may be held in one
Studs Terkel Now, you've got a -- here's someone, I didn't know of her, and you have illus-- reproductions of her work. Overwhelming is, here's Suzanne Valadon, and this could be as powerful anytime. Describe that, and then who was she in the time when she lived?
Germaine Greer Well, it's the painting of a strong-looking woman, heavily fleshed, full of energy. There's a kind of lambent sexual energy pulsing through the whole thing, which is largely expressed through the paint texture. A woman sitting in a chair with her legs crossed and her arms linked over her upper knee, dressed in a red chemise and blue knickers and white stockings, it's very, it's very relaxed posture, but it's full of power.
Germaine Greer And that's where I think where all her energy came from, she'd fought it out on the street. She was streetwise. And she was also beautiful, I suppose, in a cat-like way. But the thing about her that no one could could mistake was her force field. I mean, anyone who came into it got overpowered by it. First of all, her son, Maurice Utrillo, who was an alcoholic by the time
Germaine Greer -- "Luna," which I think is an amazing film, it's a myth as a film, but the central idea is a good one. She was -- he was in love with her and of course, she took as her lover and later husband one of his friends, who was actually younger than he was. So she -- the whole household revolved about her the way, say, Augustus John's household revolved about him.
Studs Terkel Germaine Greer is my guest, and the book is "The Obstacle Race," and it's a study, it's a powerful one, a very exciting one and a revelatory one, that Farrar, Straus Giroux published about women and painting, and one of the undercurrents to me, a recurring theme in your book, we speak of Suzanne, this woman.
Germaine Greer Valadon.
Germaine Greer Gentileschi.
Studs Terkel Gentileschi.
Studs Terkel Gentileschi is a couple of centuries before, something happened in both cases, they were free of having to play the role of the belle. They were free. They were put down in their time in a way.
Germaine Greer Well, I'm not sure. Artemisia was talked about as a beauty, but she got a lot of fun out of depicting herself as anything but. She depicted herself as a big, hairy lady with messy black hair.
Germaine Greer The male painter you see doesn't -- isn't likely to be a love object for his teacher, and he's isn't, he's going to suffer a kind of negative transference at some point, he's going to say to the master, "Well, I know what you could teach me, and I'm off." But women don't do that, they stay hypnotized, because the more they love art, the more they love the master, and the master's getting such ego food he won't let them go.
Germaine Greer Well, I think he, I think he was a good man. He taught lots of women, and he taught them hard. He taught them the best way he could, and he was not patronizing as far as I could make out, but that, I mean, that's one section of the book where you could do another lifetime's work and still not have it right. And people say to me what do I want to do now, and when I'm in a certain mood, I say, "I want to marry a millionaire and finish 'The Obstacle Race,' but that's what it would take. It would also take another 70 years of my life, and I'd probably go gaga before I'd finished.
Studs Terkel You know, where there's so many aspects to this book, where all we're doing now is touching on them, the -- since we mentioned David, we have to think of the French Revolution, and he came just immediately after, did he not?
Germaine Greer Well, what happened, what happened there, I think, is that the salon was suddenly opened for all contenders, and people like David, who had well-trained women students put them straight in there. And then what happened to them is the story of what happens to women every time, and I think it basically boils down to women being forced to choose between life and art. You can't have a proper, fulfilled life as a woman and be an artist at the same time, whereas men are allowed to have both, and that choice, whichever way you make it, if you make a choice for life, the art goes by the board. And if you decide to be just an artists and deny yourself sexual satisfaction, children, family, home, you become a neurotic artist. I mean, and in the end, the energy stops flowing, you, you slow down.
Germaine Greer Well, the double standard is always there. I mean, one of the most insulting things. I mean, I've called one chapter "Flattery," haven't I? I mean, the fact that you got over-praised for work that you didn't like. I mean, I know as a writer that that makes me crazy. I could kill
Germaine Greer All you have to do is make a mark on paper and people say, "Isn't that terrific? You know, she's so spontaneous, so natural, so charming." And then 20 years later, she's not doing anything. She's run out of steam.
Germaine Greer Oh,
Studs Terkel But
Germaine Greer Well, minor works can't be looked after properly by museums because it costs too much money to maintain them, so a lot of it's just stacked up rotting, and nobody can do anything about that. Other work has been claimed for male artists whose work it resembles. As long as you work from people to art, you go from a known style to the unknown, the known artists must get more work and the unknown artists must lose theirs. So you get someone like Rembrandt. There are too many Rembrandt paintings, everybody knows that, they're not all by Rembrandt, but who's gonna start sorting it out?
Germaine Greer She wasn't his student. That was Judith Leyster. She's wonderful painter, and, uh, we are now rediscovering her, but it's terribly slow business. She still got too few works for a woman who worked as long as she did.
Germaine Greer Well, we know about them now because they were uncloaked. They were unmasked, you see. There -- it began with a famous court case in the 1890s where somebody sold a Frans Hals as a Leyster, and then they discovered it was a Leyster. They settled out of court, but after that they began to examine the Frans Halses, and Frans Hals' reputation then was enormous. That's why he was getting so many works that didn't belong to him, because it was worth a lot of money to people to find a Frans Hals, and they found him. The art dealers will find whatever people want to buy. That's the tricky part about it. I mean, Rachel Ruysch, the great Dutch flower painter. A woman. There are so many forged Rachel Ruysches around with signatures on them, it's just unbelievable.
Germaine Greer You could argue that women virtually invented it, because there are women painting in the first rank of still life painters from the beginning of the existence of the genre as an independent genre, and it's, begins 'round about the beginning of the 17th century, and there are women up there all the time. Clara Peeters and then Louise Moillon, the Art Institute of Chicago has a fabulous Moillon, for which they paid an awful lot of money, I'm happy to say.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Germaine Greer, we'll take a break right now, we're going to return with a theme we left hanging about the revolution and the good and bad, but as far as particularly two particular French painters are concerned, Vigee Le Brun and her other -- the attempted
Germaine Greer Labille-Guiard
Studs Terkel The idea that a rivalry was being invented between them, but we'll come to this and also the subject of the woman and the man who may be her husband or friend and influences brought upon her. But -- well, we'll come to that. Un momento. [pause in recording] And we resume the conversation with Germaine Greer. The book is "The Obstacle Race," and it -- I'm thinking about the research, and Farrar, Straus, Giroux, and on the cover is Vigee Le Brun. That's her, isn't it?
Germaine Greer Yes, and she's painting her daughter. I mean, that's a great theme, that a child is a work of art. I could write a monograph on how many times women painters depicted themselves painting their children on the theme that their children were really their most important achievement, which indicates already a kind of schizophrenia.
Germaine Greer Well, Vigee Le Brun was the daughter of a painter. He wasn't a very good painter, and he seemed to know that she was a good painter. She wheedled her way into, into private collections in order to do, in order to copy paintings, which is how you learned in those days, and she gradually became a very -- a very good painter, I think, but very uneven and a very, very fashionable one. She's rather an unsympathetic character because she was a kind of egomaniac. I mean, she painted herself so many times, but I would say, mind you, that most painters are egomaniacs or
Germaine Greer Well, yes, she invented those white dresses which are called "robe en gaulle," those white muslin dresses with just a big sash and the, and the mob cap business, and that was her style. She liked to paint people in a classical mode, and that was the nearest she could get. She was thinking of herself as an imitator of Raphael, actually, I
Germaine Greer Well, she wasn't, but she had upper-class connections. She became a painter of the ruling class. So when the, uh, I was gonna say something rather impolite then, but when the brouhaha began, when the unnameable substance hit the fan, she took it on the lam because she was Marie Antoinette's portraitist and she began to travel. But some of her best work was painted in that period when she was on the road. But I think she found -- when she came back to Paris, you see, she was brought back by a public subscription -- a public petition was made to bring her back even though she was a royalist, and I think she found it all very unpleasant. I mean, the chaos and confusion and brutality of the period, remember, was a terrifying period to be alive. And I think it depressed her and she retreated into herself. She began to paint really badly towards the end of her career, but one of interesting things about her is that she was very pretty, apparently, and she said, although it has been said, her portraits don't resemble her at all, and she wasn't that pretty. But she fell for a very old trick, which is that there was another good woman painter who was elected to the academy at the same time she was, and they were made rivals. I don't think they were rivals in any real sense at all. That Vigee Le Brun thought that Labille-Guiard was a rival and spoke of her ill, I think, in her autobiography.
Germaine Greer Men
Germaine Greer Well, they do it to me all the time. They're always asking my opinion of other feminists, and the only bit they ever quote is where I voice a criticism. So now I'm going [stage right?], I just don't voice criticism. I talk nonsense around them, voice any criticism because it's such an old trick to divide us and rule us, that I won't do it.
Studs Terkel I'll come to the sub-- at the very beginning, you speak of family and love, good and bad. I mean, it worked well of course, there was at the same time how it -- the woman was subordinated to the male.
Germaine Greer Well, the worst thing is, they're doing the work for love of somebody else, and they're not doing the work for itself. And that happens time and time again. You see, the women who might have been powerfully inner-directed are not the daughters of painters. They're not related to painters at all. Most great painters are not the children
Studs Terkel I want to come to someone's who's an artist, and it's in 1962. I've gone to visit her, 'cause I knew her son, Charles Delaunay, a jazz critic in France. He's, "Meet my mother. Mother's here." "Who's your mother?" "Her name is Sonia Delaunay." I said, "Delaunay?" "Yes, my father was Robert Delaunay." I says, "I've heard of your father! I haven't heard of your mother." "Hey, why don't you go see her?" So it's a story getting to this place, Rue Saint-Simon, this particular studio there, and here's, let's hear part of it. It's 1962, and she's talking about Paris in 1095 when she came there from Russia, and there she met Braque and Picasso and the Fauv-- and she met the Rousseau doing, and Apollinaire, and but she's talking about her husband's work, and her husband these guys, finally, someone along the line says, "Hey, it occurred to me. What about you?" And we pick it up here.
Sonia Delaunay I, the whole life. But at one moment we lost all our money, you know, in '17, because I had income from Russia and we lost and the production of my husband was not very big because he said, "I paint only when I have something new to say," and so he could never make a contract with the dealer, and that's why I begin to make things for fashion. Pour la mode.
Studs Terkel I want to come to you, back to you in a moment, and your work with Diaghilev as costumer. But about your husband, there's something you said just now that really -- "I paint only when I have something new to say." Would you
Sonia Delaunay That is the lesson I give to all the young painters of today. They paint because the dealer tells them, Make many pictures. I need them to sell." And when Leon [unintelligible] came to my husband and he bought, and he sold immediately and one very big Eiffel Tower to Brazil, then he said he make me 40 pictures of Paris, and I make you two big books over you and big publicity. My husband answered him, "You know, I will not do it in my life." And it was true. And so we were poor, but he never did nothing but was not in his idea.
Sonia Delaunay Well, he said, always if I a serial of Eiffel Towers, I would have quite a, many houses in Paris. I could buy with that, 'cause the people, when they begin to like something, they want all the same.
Sonia Delaunay No.
Germaine Greer But you know about her, I mean, you know that she agree-- she never exhibited during her husband's lifetime. And at one stage he looked like going towards representative painting, and she kept him with his eye on their particular kind of spectral color painting. And, I think her choice to do fabrics, illustrations, book covers, she did ever so many things, they were all gorgeous. She probably understood Delaunay's painting him -- better than he did himself. But I think her choice to make things more perishable and more human and closer to the stuff of life itself is a really typically female choice. There are dozens of female artists who made the same decision. You
Germaine Greer "She has an enormous painting in the Musee de la Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which is, I think a painting of electricity is the title of it, it is, insists upon its own enormousness. The unity of the motif results in a massiveness of impact, the single deafening statement of her overriding idea of the rhythm of pure color. Having labored on this giant enterprise and expressed her idea in this form, she returned to her usual media, preferring the more malleable forms of textiles, decor, illustrations, soft sculptures, collages and book bindings. She was capable of bigness but unexcited by it. Her preference for intensive, scaled-down working is the tendency of women painters through the ages." Gee, I didn't think I was as certain of myself as
Studs Terkel You know, I was thinking of, as I go through your book, "The Obstacle Race" of Germaine Greer, you speak of certain moments in history, certain astonishing moments in which women were -- Bologna. Something happened in Bologna, the cert-- Bologna the city's always been exciting, hasn't it?
Germaine Greer The 1650s, and she, at the age of 17 or something, pulled off this extraordinary stunt she did "The Baptism of Christ," which is 30 feet long, for the Church of the Certosa, which is still there in Bologna, you can still see it, it hangs up very high, and it's hard to see. You can see by my, our photograph, it was photographed from low down, um, but she was an astonishingly good painter who had tremendous energy, worked terrifically hard. I mean, that's, that's the paradox. In a couple of years she had on her list 320 some paintings. So when you look at Artemisia, we've got 16 or something, you think, where's the rest, for God's sake. Offer me up the rest, let me
Germaine Greer Well, it got called by other names, and some of it got destroyed because it wasn't highly prized. I mean, paintings are hard to look after. Mind you, they're also hard to kill. And I'm, I'm really optimistic that things will start coming. Now that people are looking at this book and seeing some of the kinds of things that are in it, they might just remember a drawing they saw that had the same motif, a color or something.
Germaine Greer Being [called?] [all rang?]. Yes. I think I'm certain. They'll certainly be drawings, I mean, drawings come -- turn up all the time. The place to look is the art market. But you've gotta have a very sharp eye and a terrific visual memory, they're the only two things an art historian really
Studs Terkel Which leads to a couple of more subjects that are in your book, you know, the art market. First, the age, there came after the age of academies. Now the word "academy" immediately does something to you.
Germaine Greer Straitjacketry, yes. Yes, well, you know that's bad news. And the thing is, of course, that the good men told the academy what to do with itself and went off on their own. But the women were in a much more insecure position.
Germaine Greer The time when American art began to put up its head, when you had the big American art unions that gave prizes, that raffled paintings to subscribers, a terrific way of, of patronizing artists. But it means that people are going to be successful, who appeal to popular taste, which is always conservative, and and women were there. But they haven't stood the test of time. It turns out to have been fashionable success after all. They were still not there in the same numbers as men, but they began to have success, but they were much more subject to that kind of success,
Germaine Greer But you see, then again you got, you got the rise of the art schools and you've got the power of the master within the art school. And the master had a huge power, I mean he really occupied the students' heads. I mean, if you remember the struggle that the Impressionists had that went on year after year, they had to have enough toughness to not care that they couldn't sell anything, that nobody liked it, that they were ridiculed and humiliated. Whether there were hardly any women amongst them, there was the great American, Mary Cassatt. There was Berthe Morisot, who never really worked hard enough. She was probably the most gifted painter of all of them.
Germaine Greer I think that that Morisot really influenced other painters. She was one of the first people to paint plein air, that is, paint out of doors. She encouraged the other Impressionists to follow her lead. She was a kind of social focus point for them. Her house and her friends.
Germaine Greer Without really wanting to be. There's a marvelous Manet imitation of her called "La Lecture" in the Orangerie, which is such an exercise in her style and her palette, that it really is the most fulsome comment that a painter could make
Germaine Greer Rather depressing, and terribly old-fashioned and I think terribly slick in a way. But Mary Cassatt is the founder of most of the important American Impressionist collection. She told people what to buy.
Germaine Greer I mean, her aesthetic judgment was spot on. She never made a mistake. Her own work is practically all perfect, but not influential. I don't -- mainly I think 'cause she wasn't interested in influence. She's terribly distinctive. I mean, you could walk into a room and and recognize the Cassatt without even -- out of the corner of your eye, you turn around, there she is. Full, solid, wonderful.
Germaine Greer I didn't want to deal with women who were still alive. Delaunay is the only person who slips under the net, because I do love her work so much. And because she's so typical and revealing for other women and of those Russian women, particularly, they were so marvelous.
Germaine Greer Goncharova
Studs Terkel Post-Revolution.
Germaine Greer I must tell you -- oh, well, the story is actually in the book, that I went to the V and A [sic - Victoria and Albert Museum] and saw this marvelous extra collage, which is about three years before the collages of Picasso and Braque, and on the wall it said Aleksandra Ekster and it pointed out this, that this was too early, really, that she was obviously influential and though nobody's really realized, and then when I bought the postcard, I bought 20 copies of the postcard, when I got them home, I realized that the painter's name had been rendered Aleksander.
Germaine Greer So then I rang up the gallery and said, "Look, this is really not on, because most people have never heard of her, you can't have them getting her name wrong." Then they looked up their own books and they had, they actually said the work had been signed Aleksander Ekster. I had to start a complete riot in that museum. That was the Victoria and Albert, and that's one of the best museums in the world, and they still make a mistake like that, and that's what happens to women because people are programmed to think painter, male.
Studs Terkel No, no, and we assumed it was a man, and it wasn't the father, it turned to be the mother. Yeah, the brain. So here again. So this -- I'm reading, I'm reading now from a passage of yours, and this is connected with it. "Feminism cannot supply the ans--" oh, the artist, the problem is finding one's own authenticity, of speaking a language or an imagery that is your own. Feminism cannot sup-- I'm quoting Germaine Greer now toward the end of the book, "Feminism cannot supply the answer for an artist, for her truth cannot be political. She cannot abandon the rhetoric of one group for the rhetoric of another. The painter cannot expand, expend her precious energy in polemic and in fact, very few artists of importance do. So now we come to
Germaine Greer What I say is leave the polemic to us, to the career feminists, and let the painters get on with their work. But we're going through a period when the feminist polemic is becoming an important part of painting. I don't know that it's terribly good for the painting, but it may be terribly good for the painters, you see. They may need to get all that out of their system before they can really find out who they are.
Germaine Greer Gentileschi.
Studs Terkel Now, what is the painting that stands out? Since you spoke of the anger out? "Judith Beheading Holofernes." Now, if that isn't an angry painting on the, from the, from a woman's point of view, what
Germaine Greer She's also very ironic, and people haven't understood that. She has a very bitter sense of humor. I mean, there are so many little decorative details here that you have to become completely callous to look at it, you have to forget about him, and you have to look at the way she's
Studs Terkel By
Studs Terkel Are
Germaine Greer But anger is a wasteful emotion, and I wonder how much of Artemisia's strength was expended in just having to push and struggle and kick and gnash her teeth. I am glad for her anger because it helps me, but it may not necessarily have helped her. That wonderful painting there is her self-portrait.
Germaine Greer Well, you see, she was called beautiful, but she never painted herself that way. She painted herself as tough and heavy and muscular and determined. That -- the way she peers around the edge of the canvas at a subject, which is the way her complete refusal to acknowledge the presence of the audience. Notice the difference between that and the cover picture.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Germaine Greer Yep.
Germaine Greer Well, look at this, I mean, the way she's painted her own teeth, she's got baby teeth inside that mouth. It was said there are a few things that indicate that when, when her portrait was, one of the early ones was hung with Labille-Guiard, her famous rival, they were hung together, of course, the two girls hung one on top of the other. People pointed out that her self-portrait was not really authentic and that Labille-Guiard had caught herself exactly.
Germaine Greer Well, because she is dressed in a costume that belongs to the iconography of painting, I know that's a ponderous point to make, but this is something called the gown of changing color, which is one of the attributes. You know how we identify allegorical characters in painting because of their attributes. The iridescent gown is one of the attributes of painting, the disordered hair is another attribute of painting, and this mask hanging around her neck is another attribute of painting. Um, Angelica Kauffman painted painting, too, quite a lot, but she didn't
Germaine Greer Well, she was a sex object. I mean, they kept trying to talk about who she went to bed with, that she couldn't be taken seriously. They thought, they thought either she wanted to marry Reynolds or somebody else. I think in the end she married this terrible con man and was disgraced because it was a bigamist marriage, but I think she married him just to get away from the gossip, really, but it was a terrible mistake. Now, Cecilia Bull, that picture you're looking at by her, she's American.
Germaine Greer But she's one of the celibate women artists. She believed, I think, that painting and marriage didn't mix. Well, that's all very well unless you're a heterosexual woman who needs some kind of expression for her sexuality. If you don't, if you are a heterosexual woman, then eventually the repression is gonna show in the work, because the energy is going to be wasted in self-repression, you see, then there's a whole gang of virgin women artists who I think, you know, made the only possible decision, but it was a wrong one.
Studs Terkel Obviously I think it's clear to listeners that Germaine Greer's book, "The Obstacle Race" is a very provocative one, I think a revelatory one and exciting one, too. Ten years of work, wasn't
Germaine Greer "There is then no female Leonardo, no female Titian, no female Poussin, but the reason does not lie in the fact that women have wombs, that they can have babies, that their brains are smaller, that they lack vigor, that they are not sensual. The reason is simply that you cannot make great artists out of egos that have been damaged with wills that are defective, with libidos that have been driven out of reach and energy diverted into neurotic channels. Western art is in large measure neurotic for the concept of personality which it demonstrates is in many ways anti-social, even psychotic, that the neurosis of the artist is of a very different kind from the carefully cultured self-destructiveness of women. In our time, we have seen both art and women changing in ways that, if we do not lose them, will bring both closer together."