Art.

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As I flip through an old childhood sketchbook, I see drawings of my old teddy bear, my nightstand and occasionally something that resembles a cartoon monster. I was always an imaginative child, spending hours cooped up into my room writing short stories, creating pretend alphabets and painting. I loved art, because I liked to invent new things.

During high school summer breaks, I took oil painting classes from Professor Niu, a highly-regarded painting teacher in the Chinese community. The classes were hours long and could be physically tiring, but the hardest thing about painting ended up being paying attention to my eyes.

When I tried to paint a vase, my brain told me it was white while my eyes were telling me it was actually blue (from reflections created by nearby objects). I would struggle at first to paint it blue, because I knew it was white. But when I did paint it blue, it looked right and suddenly the painting would come together.

These classes ended up teaching me not just about how to make colors and form come together on a canvas, but also how to be a little braver. Art teaches courage, an attribute that comes from facing fears and overcoming them.

It’s easy to make something the way other people tell me it should be. It’s much harder to block out existing thoughts to create new ones. Art is important for this reason. It tries new things. It experiments. It plays. It imagines. It questions. It ultimately brings people out of their comfort zones; that’s something we always need a little bit more of.

“Where did all the women go?”

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This is a conversation that I have with my product and graphic design friends on a frequent basis. If the ratio of design students is relatively balanced between genders, then why don’t we see more female designers in the actual workforce? Is it the lack of role models? After all, how many female designers did we see in our history books? Is it lack of self-confidence? Or is it that women have children at the height of their careers? In every design company I’ve worked at men have outnumbered women. I’m not trying to make a feminist statement, I’m just curious. So I tried to search for something that might answer my question.

New York Times:

…most of the designers who win commissions from those companies are male. The same applies to the AIGA’s highest profile members. The only woman except Ms. Jongerius among the 22 designers or design teams to be listed on Vitra’s Web site for designing its office furniture is Ray Eames, who died in 1988.

Why do so few women reach the top of design? The short answer is the same lack of self-belief and entitlement that dogs them in every other profession, combined with opposition from those who commission the majority of design projects, most of whom are men. The graphic designer Paula Scher once described this as the “Why did I get the woman?” syndrome.

Jane Piirto:

Barron studied young artists at the San Francisco Art Institute and at the Rhode Island School of Design….In asking the students the question. Do you think of yourself as an artist? 67% of the women said no and 60% of the men said yes. When asked the question, In comparison to the work of others at the Institute, is your work particularly unique or good? 40% of the men and 17% of the women answered yes. And when asked In comparison to the work of others at the Institute, is your work inferior? the percentages were reversed: 40% of the women felt their work was inferior and 14% of the men agreed.

Barron pointed out that this revealed a difference in self-image in the women, and that these differences were not indications of the real quality of the men’s and women’s art work, indicating that “the quality of the women’s art work was equally high.” The main difference came in the intensity of the commitment of the young artists to their work. Almost all of the men said their art work was their life, was necessary for life, and was their main reason for living: “Without painting I couldn’t function.”

There are many more examples, studies and quotes, but they all center around the same themes of self-perception in some way or another.

So maybe it’s all of the above.

Maybe it’s something I’ll figure out when I turn 30, because nothing I read is satisfying my curiosity. My main priority right now is my work and my art, and I would also like to think that I have self-belief. I also know that many of my female friends feel the same. They’re finding jobs at design consultancies, healthcare start-ups, famous shoe companies, etc and are doing well in those spaces, which is why they’re also asking me “where are all the women?”

I guess we’ll have to see.

Maybe I’ll come across this blog in ten years and make an addendum to this post.