Creative Labors: The Lives and Careers of Women Artists

Article excerpt

A qualitative study investigated the meaning and experience of career for 8 women between the ages of 40 and 65 years who identified themselves as artists and whose primary career pursuits were in the visual, performing, or literary arts. The question that guided this phenomenological investigation was: What is the meaning and experience of career as it is lived by women artists? Three in-depth interviews were conducted with each participant over 2 years. Detailed analysis of the interview transcripts identified 9 common themes in the lives and career development of these women artists. The implications of the findings for career theory, counseling practice, and research are discussed.

With the dramatic growth in the number of women participating in the paid labor force in North America, social and economic realities have necessitated a revisioning of women's occupational roles and workforce participation. Indeed, in the 17 years since Fitzgerald and Crites (1980) asked, "What do we know? What do we need to know?" about the career psychology of women, theorists have paid considerable attention to mapping the contours of women's career development (e.g., Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; Gustafson & Magnusson, 1991; Larwood & Gutek, 1987; Marshall, 1989; Walsh & Osipow, 1994). Career theories are now being developed that are more sensitive to the distinct sociocultural realities that shape and circumscribe the work roles and experiences of women-theories that serve to expand our notions of career beyond paid employment to include the diverse roles and activities in which women engage across various life domains (Betz, 1991; Osipow, 1991; Swanson, 1992). Through in-depth analyses of the lives and careers of particular groups of women, a richer and more complex understanding is also being formed of the development, challenges, and joys inherent in the lives of women as they attempt to pursue their life's work. (Bateson, 1989; Chester & Grossman, 1990; Gustafson & Magnusson, 1991; Stohs, 1992). Just such an in-depth exploration and analysis of the lives and careers of one group-women artists-is the focus of this study.

Historically, women have been involved in many different roles in the arts, most typically as educators, volunteers, benefactors, and audience members. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of women are electing to pursue careers as creators of art. In Canada, the arts labor force currently comprises about 200,000 individuals including visual artists, musicians, product and interior designers, dancers, actors, writers, and editors. Of these, 45% are women, an increase of 390% in the past 25 years (Statistics Canada, 1993). American estimates reflect similar proportional increases in women's involvement as creators of art.

At the same time, the (limited) scholarly research available as well as personal lived accounts of women artists suggest that pursuit of a career in the arts may be particularly difficult for women because of a variety of factors. Barriers to success for women in the arts include (a) recurring unemployment, career interruption and instability (McCaughey, 1985; Noble, 1987); (b) low pay and frequently intangible rewards (Sang, 1989); (c) the traditional association of artistic roles with men and the corresponding devaluation of women's artistic career pursuits by self and others (Bepko & Krestan, 1993; McCaughey, 1985); (d) difficulty in balancing competing personal, relationship, and familial roles and obligations (Chicago, 1977; Kavaler-Adler, 1993; Sang, 1989; Stohs, 1992); and (e) pervasive sex discrimination in the arts world, which makes it difficult for women artists to get appropriate training, recognition, and adequate financial recompense for their work (Chicago, 1977; Kerr, 1985; Noble, 1987, 1989; Sang, 1989; Wyszomirski, 1985). Wyszomirski also noted that the prevalence of age discrimination in many facets of the arts "can detract from the acceptance of women as being creative, productive, or exciting once they past 40-at just the time when years of study, development, and reputation-building place them at, what is for men, the threshold of enduring success, acclaim, and stature* (p. …