Sometimes, I Want to Cry

An Overview of My Experiences as a Woman in the Arts

The “starving artist” is a common stereotype used to emphasize how difficult it can be to make it as an artist. While many artists strive for mainstream success, they face high barriers of entry that cause only a select few to be able to accomplish this goal. Personally, I have experienced the specific obstacles that come with being an artist in numerous ways throughout my career. However, some of my biggest challenges have been due to my position as a woman.

Sometimes, I want to cry because it is so hard. If anyone would have told me what the reality of being an artist is, I probably would have pivoted towards another career. Not only have I had to face the specific barriers to success within arts, but I have also had to come to terms with the fact that women get the short end of the stick. Throughout my career, I have observed a significant lack of female artists represented in museums and galleries, a comparatively miniscule number of female grant recipients, a large pay gap, and many more obstacles that make it feel nearly impossible to make it even slightly as a woman in the arts. Yet, while female artists clearly experience extra difficulties due to our gender, these inequalities often go unacknowledged and unaddressed.

One of the moments when I became particularly aware of the lower value assigned to my work as a female artist occurred when I was working for one of the largest photographic reps in the world. At the time, they were looking to expand and turned to me for input. As there were already ten male photographers on the roster, I suggested we seek out a female artist to add diversity and tap into a new perspective. My boss immediately shut me down, looking directly at me and stating simply that they didn’t know any female photographers. In the moment, the blunt negativity of this response was paralyzing. However, what shocked me even more was the fact that my supervisor was a woman. It then became clear to me that despite the fact that she undoubtedly faced personal obstacles due to her gender, this woman was a rich bitch who would only hire people she felt would bring in the most money. Thus, simply because I was a woman, she saw less value and talent in my work. Upon realizing that I would never obtain the level of respect and acknowledgement I felt I deserved, I quit. However, this experience has stuck with me and sometimes the feelings of inferiority and invisibility resurface as I continue to face the barriers that inherently accompany my gender.

As you can see, the reality of these inequalities within the art world can be extremely depressing. There have been many moments where I felt like giving up, but I can never fully bring myself to do it. This is my calling and no matter what setbacks I face, I always come back to being an artist. I must consistently remind myself that my art is not about the money, but rather takes on a whole different energetic form: one that not only honors all the hardworking, badass women within my field, but also all of the woman that came before me and paved the path for me to pursue my life’s purpose.

The arts are changing rapidly. As a 44-year-old female artist, seeing 20-year-olds find success and fulfillment within the arts can be discouraging at first. Watching these younger women get hired for the types of jobs and projects I have hoped for my whole career often makes me question the quality and value of my own work. However, it is in these doubting moments that I must steel myself to remember the many women that came before me who hoped to become artists but didn’t have the luxury to pursue this dream. Women like my own mother and grandmother, who were too busy taking care of their children and overcoming everyday gender inequalities to be able to prioritize their art. In these moments of reflection and remembrance, I feel lucky. For the women before me that laid the groundwork, I am grateful. Because of the battles these women fought simply to be heard, I live in a world where I have a voice. My only hope is to use this voice to lay the groundwork for the female artists who will come after me, just as my ancestors did before me.

May the work of the next generation of women in the arts be valued just as much as their male counterparts. May they be represented in galleries and museums. May they receive all the grants they deserve. May they get paid what they are worth. Finally, may they reflect on the accomplishments of the female artists that came before them and pass their fighting spirit on to the generations of badass women to come.

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Join me here on Wednesdays at 12pm to learn more about my personal journey and begin an exploration of your own. If there are specific topics or issues you would like me to respond to, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @teresaflowersphotography or @nakedanddreaming. Or tune into my weekly Instagram Live stream on @teresaflowersphotography where I will be discussing these topics in more depth and answering your questions!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years. I am excited to continue this journey with you!

Teresa Flowers is an internationally recognized multimedia artist based in Portland, OR. She is also the founder of Alien Mermaid Cove and Altered States.