An unabashed polemic promoting more female artist exhibitions, and art sales, this film is as entertaining as it is one-sided. Inspiring enough that men, too, might be moved to artistry
In this enthusiastic essay on artistic endeavor Pamela Tanner Boll (“Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids,” 2004) issues a challenge to moms across America. Throw down your chains and pick up your paint brushes. Drive the kids to soccer but don’t forget that canvas when you get home. Let dad fix dinner for a change the get back to that pottery kiln. One of the problems with America is that female artists make up only about a tenth of the exhibitions in the nation, in spite of the fact that half of graduating college art majors are women. In blind juried selections female artists are chosen to exhibit half the time. When the selection committee knows the names and genders, the selection shifts to 80% male. Why is it that a male name is better than a female moniker when the art is the same?
An unabashed promotion for female artists, “Who Does She Think” is openly one sided. It is a full blown polemic to buy and exhibit the art of women so as to gain equality in the marketplace. The interesting thing is that in so-doing it misses the more interesting question. Is it possible for anybody, male or female, to become a successful artist on top of being a self-sufficient, family-supporting wage earner and/or care giver? The question in the film is whether women can develop their artistic skills while at the same time taking care of kids. The question of whether men can do the same thing while being accountants or lawyers is left for another film. Are these endeavors mutually exclusive? Might our nation be better off we had more male artists as well as more female?
Leaving that issue, a wonderful walkthrough of art is part and parcel of the movie. There is no question the artists in the film are talented; hopefully this film will shed light on their work and perhaps steer a few galleries their way. There is never any excess of exhibition space for any artists, male or female. At a few points in the movie the subjects expostulate about the sincerity of their endeavor by explaining that all they want is for their work to be viewed and appreciated. This gets a little cloying at times since when one thinks about it, that’s all any artist wants, male or female. In fact, that’s all any accountant or lawyer wants as well.
So the story becomes not one of female artists but of the plight of career-oriented females in general. In spite of the intended focus of the film it is hard to not expand it into a bigger picture. Or two bigger pictures. The first is the question of whether blockades to woman’s participation in upper levels of social and economic achievement are limited to artists. The second is whether a lack of acknowledged artistic expression is present in mainly the female gender in America. There is no law against anybody starving to paint or to sculpt. But who are given the most opportunities to paint and sculpt while not starving?
Although the film is inspiring to women attempting to fit art into their lives as care-givers, there is a danger here that pro-female apologists are co-opting the beauty of artistic expression for women. One supposes that if accountants want to express themselves artistically they can simply save up their money and retire and do it. Of course, once the kids are off to college, women could do the same. Perhaps if the accountants or lawyers want to fight for more time to work in their studios instead of spending 12 hours a day in their offices grubbing for the legal tender they should take it up with their professional organizations. Maybe get a film out there.
In any event, if you are a woman who wants be do art, or a man who cares for a woman who wants to do art, check out this film. Don’t worry about the men slaving in their offices. If they want to be artists, they will just have to figure it out for themselves.
Directed by: Pamela Tanner Boll and Nancy Kennedy
Written by: Will Dunning
Release: April 3, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 84 minutes