Sunday, August 26, 2007

The other Louise

In a comment on my previous post, I was asked why I bothered with what Mario Naves thought and I’m betting that anonymous commentator was a guy. Because women understand that as one woman is portrayed, we all are. Naves’s comment about Nevelson not smiling for her portrait still bugs me. It makes me think of all the times I've walked down the street and been ordered by some jerk to smile. And then there was the guy, just the other day, who shouted out that I was wearing “the wrong clothes” because I was wearing black on a warm day. Meanwhile he had his shirt off with his belly hanging out over his shorts.

One of my lessons came from “the other Louise”—Louise Bourgeois (people actually called them that—can you imagine Richard Artschwager and Richard Tuttle being known as “the two Richards”?) who I was working with on a story for Art & Antiques just as they were changing owners and editors. While doing the Bourgeois article, another piece I’d written about my artist great-grandmother, Daisy Challiss Faust, was about to be published. A critic friend warned me early on in my writing career to be careful about the contributor’s credits that appear in the front of magazines, that they’re often handed off to just anyone who may not know what they’re doing. So I insisted on vetting the credit and when I called in, the intern (a woman, by the way) who’d written it read it to me, down to the last two sentences which went: “Diehl has recently gotten a grant to do some painting of her own. Will it be in the style of her great-grandmother?”

I thought wow, here it is 1994 and I’m still fighting the same belittling attitudes my great-grandmother faced nearly a century ago. I had to have a rather big fit to get the credit pulled from the magazine but I prevailed. That night, when I saw Louise at a dinner, I told her the story and added how grateful I was for the role model she provided in standing up for herself. “It’s not about promoting our art but defending it,” she said, pounding her fist on the table, “We must defend our art!”

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