Challenge Accepted: Can You Name Five Women Artists?

Ask someone to name five artists and responses will likely include names such as Warhol, Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci—all male artists. Ask someone to name five women artists, and the question poses more of a challenge.

Back by popular demand this March, the National Museum of Women in the Arts continues to ask, “Can you name five women artists?” This simple question calls attention to the inequity women artists face, inspires conversation, and brings awareness to a larger audience. Last year, the campaign struck a chord, and tens of thousands of posts were shared on social media. This year, more than 200 institutions from 50 states, 22 countries, and seven continents have already signed on to participate.

Join us throughout the month to share stories of women artists using the hashtag #5WomenArtists on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Challenge your family and friends.
  2. Share posts about your favorite women artists.
  3. Share a work by a woman artist at a museum or gallery near you.
  4. Explore NMWA’s artist profiles to discover artists you may not know.
  5. Get the facts about art world inequality and track campaign updates all month long.

To kick off the month, learn more about five influential women artists from the museum’s collection who defied expectations:

Left to right: Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman (ca. 1580) and Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Jar (ca. 1939); NMWA; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Left to right: Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of a Noblewoman, ca. 1580 and Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez, Jar, ca. 1939; NMWA; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) is regarded as the first professional woman artist. For 20 years beginning in the 1580s, Fontana was the portraitist of choice among Bolognese noblewomen. Not only was Fontana the breadwinner of her family, she also gave birth to 11 children.

For more than eight decades, Maria Martinez (1887–1980) revived and continued the centuries-old black-on-black pottery traditions of San Ildefonso Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Through her creative vision and skill, Martinez influenced generations of artists.

Left to right: Clementine Hunter, Untitled, 1981; NMWA, Gift of Evelyn M. Shambaugh; Lola Álvarez Bravo, De generación en generación, ca. 1950; NMWA, Gift of the Artist; © 1995 University of Arizona Foundation, Center for Creative Photography

Entirely self-taught and immensely prolific, Clementine Hunter (ca. 1887–1988) earned critical acclaim for vibrant paintings depicting life in the Cane River region of central Louisiana. Hunter did not start painting until the 1940s, when she was already a grandmother.

Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907–1993) was one of Mexico’s first professional women photographers, documenting daily life and portraying prominent world leaders. Like her friend Frida Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo celebrated the traditional costumes and customs of her country’s varied regions. She cannily blended nationalist content with the expression of universal human emotions.

Lee Krasner, The Springs, 1964; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lee Krasner (1908–1984) was one of the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters. Through six decades devoted to art, she explored innovative approaches to painting and collage. Often overshadowed by her husband, Krasner declared, “I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock . . . but I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock.”

Want to help advocate for women in the arts? Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts.

Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Lee Krasner

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Lee Krasner, whose work is on view in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today through February 28, 2015.

Lee Krasner (1908–1984)

1. Chicken or the Egg?

Krasner introduced her husband, artist Jackson Pollock, to influential artists and critics including Willem de Kooning and Clement Greenberg—not the other way around. Krasner helped create the “all-over” technique inspired by Piet Mondrian’s “grid,” which influenced Jackson Pollock’s revolutionary “drip paintings.”

Lee Krasner's The Springs, 1964, in NMWA's collection, refers to the village near East Hampton, on Long Island, where she and Jackson Pollock moved in 1945.

Lee Krasner, The Springs, 1964; Oil on canvas, 43 in. x 66 in. x 1 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

2. Home Springs Eternal

The title of The Springs refers to the town on Long Island where Krasner and Pollock lived and worked. After Krasner’s death, the house became The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Paint used by both artists can be seen on the floorboards of their barn-turned-studio.

3. Anonymous was a Woman

Signing much of her work as “LK” or not at all, Krasner attempted to escape presumptions about femininity in the work of “women artists” and her ties to Pollock. In attempting to avoid identity politics, Krasner navigated her roles as woman, wife, and artist.

4. Waste Not, Want Not

Between 1953 and 1955, Krasner moved toward a collage style, creating new works by cutting apart discarded canvas of her own and Pollock’s, pasting the pieces on large color field paintings previously exhibited at Betty Parson’s New York gallery. Influenced by Matisse, Milkweed (1955) is a stunning example.

5. Go Figure

Known primarily for her contributions to Abstract Expressionism, Krasner did paint figural work early in her career. Though much of it has been destroyed, two self-portraits (1929 and 1930) remain from her time at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Lee Krasner: A Fascinating and Iconic Modernist Master

Art historian and author Gail Levin will be at NMWA to read from and discuss her new biography about painter Lee Krasner.

Sunday, April 3, 2-3:30 p.m. Free and open to the public! Book signing follows. No reservations required.

For many years, Lee Krasner was overshadowed by her formidable husband, the renowned Jackson Pollock. Yet at Gail Levin shows, this independent woman of uncompromising talent and fiery genius was a significant artist in her own right well deserving of recognition in the twentieth century’s culture lexicon.

At turns vivid and eye-opening, Lee Krasner: A Biography (William Morrow, 2011) examines the evolution of a woman whose life was as dramatic and intriguing as her art. Drawing on brand new sources, Levin offers a dynamic, comprehensive portrait of this brilliant woman who grew up an impoverished Jewish girl in Brooklyn and made trouble in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a tough, unreserved, outspoken artist, feminist, and community sympathizer. Deeply insecure, irascible, and stubborn, Krasner was also magnetic, with the “kind of animal energy and voluptuousness we later came to call sex appeal,” said a friend.

In 1945, Krasner married Pollock, a passionate relationship defined by tenderness and duplicity that would have a significant influence on both their work. Levin probes Krasner’s struggles with Pollock examining how this willful woman was wrecked by her husband’s alcoholism, destructive behavior, and secret love affairs. Throughout, Levin colorfully analyzes how these events and relationships all contributed to Krasner’s mythic status as one of the most polemic artists of the last century.

Lee Krasner is one of only four women ever to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, and her work is displayed in major collection, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Modern in London, and the Australian National Gallery. The house that Krasner and Pollock shared in East Hampton is now a museum and a national Historic Landmark.

Lee Krasner's The Springs, 1964, in NMWA's collection, refers to the village near East Hampton, on Long Island, where she and Jackson Pollock moved in 1945.

Levin was a personal friend of Krasner’s and owns recorded interviews with the artist whom she first met when she was a graduate student in 1971 (twenty-two year old Levin decided to interview sixty-two year old Krasner about Kandinsky’s influence on Pollock’s work). Levin also knew many of the other people featured in the book, including Edward Albee, Richard Howard and B.H. Friedman, Pollock’s first biographer, among many others—some of whom she met through Krasner. On her connection with Krasner, Levin explains:

Author Gail Levin

“I never forgot the impact Krasner had on my life. In 1989, five years after her death, I purchased a home in Springs, not far from Krasner and Pollock’s house, where I had had my most extensive visits with her. In fact, for me, she seemed to embody that distant part of Long Island.

Before I bought my house, I collected many souvenirs during my travels to distant places, including a collection of exotic seashells. When I moved into my new home, I decided to use them decoratively, placing she shells on a shelf in the bedroom. It just seemed natural.

It wasn’t until I visited the newly opened Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in 1991 that I rediscovered that Lee had kept the shelves in her bedroom. On some subconscious level, these shells had come to define for me how a house in Springs ought to look. Knowing Krasner enriched my life. She had deeply affected me, and the shells were just one small clue to the many dimensions of her influence upon me.”

Lee Krasner is an absorbing biography that offers a startling fresh look at the woman best known as Jackson Pollock’s wife—a firebrand and trailblazer for women’s rights and one of the twentieth century’s modernist masters.

Gail Levin is the author of twelve previous books and is an expert on the lives and work of Edward Hopper and Lee Krasner. She is currently a distinguished professor of art history at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City of New York. She has lectured all over the world, curated exhibits in New York City, Valencia, Tokyo, and has photographs in public collections in New York and Georgia.