Cherchez la MIX:FEMME!

On March 4th, the Cleveland Museum of Art is hosting MIX:FEMME. The event celebrates femininity and women's contribution to art and music, and allows guests to explore groundbreaking art by female artists on guided tours. Flash Writing, led by Paola Amaras and Paul Kraly of Scribes Unlimited, allows guests to collaborate in group story writing about different genres and works of art throughout the evening.

Yep, that's me - and my writing partner and fellow Huff Post blogger Paul - providing the art activity at the MIX:FEMME! At the museum, no less!

The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the world's greatest museums. It has world class classical, Asian and Medieval collections, and outstanding modern art as well. What's more important, the founders of the museum back in 1916 made it free to the citizens of Cleveland and except for special exhibits and events, it's remained so for 100 years. I spent a lot of time there, in the Medieval Court, as a child and I never imagined that I'd get to participate in an event.

On the first Friday of most months, CMA sponsors a huge 18-and-up mixer with music, dancing, tours, and of course art activities in their atrium. It's always a great party and showcases some awesome art from the museum's collections. Since March is Women's History Month, it only seems appropriate that they highlight the fine arts that women bring to their collections.

It seems ironic though, putting writers and female artists together. Writers are rarely displayed in a museum, unless they are part of an illuminated manuscript or a rare volume of forgotten illustrated lore. Our art doesn't always lend itself to the visual. Sometimes we aren't even considered artists.

Sadly, female artists are also under-displayed in collections as well. We made this discovery when we went through the entire index of the museum's collections, online, to select the pieces we were going to use as the inspiration of our flash writing genres and opening sentences. It seemed as if for every gazillion male artists, there were only one or two female artists. According to the Guerrilla Girls, a female artists collective, less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Section (of the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art) are women, but 85% of the nudes are female. Seems a bit lopsided, don't you think?

That's why something like MIX:FEMME is so important to showcase women in art. Women weren't just models or patrons. They were actual painters, sculptors, weavers, designers, and hands-on participants in all areas of art.

For centuries, millennia actually, women were systematically relegated to a subordinate or denigrated position in all forms of art. Textile and 'decorative arts' were consigned to the pejorative term of 'crafts', conjuring up images of oven mitts at craft fairs, and lopsided pottery ceramics, or glass, or even textiles created by women. Fine Arts, the kinds that appeared in museums, was a field men dominated and controlled by men until well into the twentieth century.

Even when women of earlier times were recognized as artists, it was under the aegis and approval of a husband, or a brother, who passed her work off as his own. It wasn't necessarily done maliciously, but because societal norms dictated the perception of art. Men were fine artists. Women did crafts.

Seriously, how can anyone say that the Bayeaux Tapestry, created by Queen Matilda of England to celebrate her husband's victory at the Battle of Hastings, isn't art? Strangely, the first drawing or sketch was attributed to a woman according to Pliny the Elder. It seems a woman, called Dibutades traced the silhouette of her sleeping lover on a wall and created the first drawing, thus shepherding in the age of fine art.

It only took until the 20th century for female artists to capitalize on their head start in the fine arts.

Better late than never, I guess.

Luckily, the late twentieth century saw women being acknowledged as fine artists in their own right. Although there were dinosaurs insisting that women doing textiles or ceramics, let alone paintings, were only on the edge of being artists, great museums, like CMA, began to exhibit women's art with the same respect as they afforded men's.

I remember the first time I actually saw an art event centered on a female artist - Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, a massive mixed-media (textiles, ceramics, and porcelain) piece arranged on a triangular table with thirty-nine elaborate place settings. My mother, a conservative but always an art lover, insisted we see Chicago's exhibit because she was excited that women's 'herstory' and art was finally was getting recognition.

I don't want to sound as if I don't appreciate male artists and their remarkable works. I love being surrounded by these pieces, and the Cleveland Museum of Art is a remarkable place to see them.

And now CMA is celebrating female artists, which just goes to show that women are really here and are having MIXes thrown for them - at one of the great museums in the world.

And we get to help! And play! And write!

For those of you who can't attend - either because you don't live in Cleveland or are busy, not to worry. You can still participate in our Flash Writing by signing on to the museum's blog site. There you can add your two cents to those tales that are not done. This way you can join us. Who knows what great literature will come from this MIX:FEMME of talent?