Women in the arts gather for inspiration | St. Louis Public Radio

Women in the arts gather for inspiration

Nov 11, 2011

This article firs appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 11, 2011 - From the esoteric -- understanding gender issues, for example -- to the practical -- a guide to self-publishing -- topics at the UMSL Women in the Arts conference offer participants a broad range of information.

UMSL student Cameron Metheney went to a session called "Poetry from the Daughters of Second-Wave Feminists" after her gender studies professor said students could attend the conference in lieu of class.

It was a learning experience for Metheney, who said she walked away with more understanding about women in the arts and in the world.

"There is still that patriarchy and the hierarchy of men over women. Women are still somewhat silent," Metheney said. "Professor Robbins talked about sex trafficking, and used the Kentucky Derby as a metaphor, to talk about the ways that victims are broken down like the horses."

Paula Hoffman traveled to the conference from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga. The professor of art and painter came to present "The Living Ibsen," Paintings Influenced by Henrik Ibsen's Plays, "A Doll House" and "Ghosts." Hoffman, who earned her MFA in painting at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, has exhibited in Oslo, Shanghai and Bangladesh.

In those arenas and at the UMSL conference, Hoffman learns as well as instructs. Here in St. Louis, she's enjoying the camaraderie and the ways her two-dimensional work relates to theater and literature.

"This is nice for its interdisciplinary aspect," Hoffman said.

The conference continues Saturday with sessions that include "Sisterhood Freedom Dance," "Chamber Recital with Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Viola and Piano" and "Exploring Self-Identities, Professional Identities and Teaching Practices."

UMSL's Women in the Arts conference includes crafters whose wares are for sale in the lobby of the J.C. Penney center where the event is being held. The lobby provides a gathering place as well as a shopping area for hand-made earrings, scarves, purses and other items. The venders might have been especially interested in the marketing presentation described below.

Business: Marketing Yourself and Your Work

Everyone who makes a living in the arts also wears another hat: business owner. Among today's offerings at UMSL's Women in the Arts conference was a presentation about marketing by New York arts publicist Jeff James.

In addition to composing, sculpting or writing, artists must get the word out about their work and related events -- a skill for which many have little-to-no training.

Number one on James' to-do list is learning how to write a press release. His cardinal rule: "Don't ever use words like 'fantastic' or especially the phrase 'can't miss.'" These and other worn-out, hyped-up words and phrases mean you'll miss out on coverage, he said.

Even if someone else handles the publicity, it's vital for artists to know the basics of a good press release to determine if they're getting good representation.

Every artist needs a complete electronic press kit. This should include at least two photos of 300 dpi or greater and a list of 10 questions. The questions help an interviewee focus on the artist's particular expertise.

"It's important to have this to control your own information," James said.

Quarterly electronic newsletters are vital to keeping an artist in the public eye. And don't forget other free publicity tools including Facebook and YouTube.

"YouTube is the second largest search engine -- only Google is bigger," James said. "It's an incredible resource especially for those in the musical world who have performances and short documentaries about themselves."

Those who have money to spend on publicity should look into PR newswire, James said, calling it "one of the best possible places to send out information about your big events, nationally."

James also had tips for getting grants, including looking into an organization called Foundation Center, a repository of information about tens of thousands of grant programs.

A Little Liszt

Not just talk but also talent was exhibited today at UMSL's Women in the Arts conference. Participants were treated to a piano recital by Jane Solose, professor and chair of the keyboard studies division at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Solose, a Steinway Artist, lectured on and played portions of Mary Jeanne Van Appledorn's "A Liszt Fantasie."

Forgotten Females Who Pioneered Filmmaking

Like so many professional women, 19th-century film pioneer Alice Guy-Blache began as a secretary. In 1895, after accompanying her boss to one of the earliest mass film showings, in Paris, Guy-Blache asked if she could play with his movie-making equipment.

"She was patted on the head and told she still had to do her filing and other secretarial work," according to Rita M. Csapo-Sweet, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

In her presentation, "Pioneers of Early Cinema: The Films of Alice Guy-Blache and Lois Weber," Csapo-Sweet told a group at UMSL's Women in the Arts conference that Guy-Blache's career included many firsts. Working in Paris and later New York, she conceptualized the role of a director and also forged ahead in technical achievements.

"She was one of the firsts to do close-up, split-screen and to work in sound film," Csapo-Sweet said.

But Guy-Blache's career was cut short by her divorce. In those days, it was an all-too-common occurrence that when a woman's ties to a man were severed, she lost the support necessary to sustain a career.

"The tragedy is that these women were all but forgotten as the film industry changed," Csapo-Sweet said.

In the history books, D.W. Griffith's 1915 "Birth of a Nation" is often touted as also giving birth to American filmmaking. In her presentation, Csapo-Sweet showed clips of Guy-Blache's 1913 film "Making an American Citizen" to contrast her messages with Griffith's masculine themes of war and power.

Guy-Blache's "Citizen" is the story of Russian-born Ivan, who, among other atrocities, forces his wife to pull his carriage while whipping her to speed up her trot. But subsequent scenes after their arrival America show man after man intervening each time Ivan comes after his wife with a cane, a broom or his hands. Finally, Ivan is arrested and serves six months in prison.

Such social justice messages were common themes of women filmmakers, who used the new medium to tell stories. But male themes began to dominate the industry in the early 20th century. What was lost cannot be measured, according to Csapo-Sweet.

"There is a big difference in what was implemented by men in Hollywood and perhaps what could have been, had the women been in charge," Csapo-Sweet said.

Posing Nude: Objectification or Publicity Stunt?

(Posted at 3:50 p.m. Nov. 10) Those who are not visual artists have a vague notion that it occurs and those who are take it for granted.

Models who remove their clothes in a room full of strangers for the sake of art and a little cash (many a student has paid his or her way through college in this manner) provide artists an essential tool with which to work.

But given our patriarchal society, when the model is a woman and the artist is a man, does she become solely an object? Or does she, as a subject, call the shots?

It depends, according to Susan Waller, associate professor of art and art history at UMSL.

Waller's presentation centered on a 1898 sculpture called "La Danseuse" ("The Dancer") by Parisian artist Alexandre Falguiere.

It is believed that a dancer named Cleo de Merode posed for the work. In this video interview Waller, discusses the cultural perspective of that decision and whether de Merode posed in a possible Paris Hilton moment -- as a 19th-century publicity stunt.

The Truth About Writing Fiction

(Posted 3:35 p.m.) Even in writing fiction, there are facts. One important fact is that truth is paramount. Paradoxically, truth does not actually have to be factual: A man can go to sleep as a man and wake up as a donkey, as long as that occurrence rings true within the context of the story.

Former University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Mary Troy spoke about "Writing Out of Bewilderment, Stumbling Toward Truth" at UMSL's three-day Women in the Arts conference.

The author of four books of fiction, including her recent "Beauty," Troy explained how a chance encounter with a stranger might spark a story, that, while made-up, is also true. It all starts with bewilderment.

"We see woman waiting on a bus and wonder, 'What kind of life is she going home to? What makes her jaw so tense, her eyes so focused, why does she pull on her chin, what is she thinking?'" Troy said. "That curiosity is the basis for a story."

Further questioning moves the story forward.

"What does she yearn for that she could get?" Troy said. "Then make her try to get it, see how easy or hard that can be -- and then you have a plot and a character."

An example of a story not based in truth is one that's frequently submitted by Troy's female students who've recently divorced. It always starts with his betrayal of the hardworking, faithful wife.

"She cooks, she cleans, she love him and takes care of kids, but he, the rat, falls for someone younger, prettier and usually thinner, leaving her with no money or self-esteem," Troy said.

The tale continues with the woman somehow finding the strength to not only survive but thrive, getting a degree in law or finance and becoming a top executive. Eventually, he comes back, admits he made a terrible mistake, begs for forgiveness and wants her back.

"She says, 'No, drop dead -- you had your chance and I don't love you anymore,'" Troy said. "Then she gets on her yacht or jets off to Switzerland."

These kinds of stories make the writer feel better, but ...

"They are lies," Troy said. "They can explain what our characters wish and yearn for but we know they're not true."

Celebrate Creativity

(Posted 12:25 p.m.) From as far away as London, Vienna, California and New York, and as close as the halls of academia at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, more than 100 women descended on the UMSL campus today to foster creativity -- their own, and that of others.

The day's seminars began with the naked truth about posing nude, branched out into Irish-American women writers after 9/11 and will wrap up tonight with a chamber music concert with the Equinox Chamber Players.

"Come, Learn, Enjoy, Celebrate with Women Creators" encompasses all the creative arts. Its goal is to put women artists on par with men, according to Barbara Harbach, professor of music, and Women in the Arts program founder.

"Many people think the playing field is level in the arts," Harbach said. "Let's just say it's getting closer and there are now stiletto holes in the glass ceiling."

Harbach's hope is that participants will leave with a new enthusiasm.

"I'm hoping they get energized in their own creativity and go out and make noises and do their creative thing -- and inspire other women to do theirs," Harbach said.