The Identity of Female Artist in Popular Culture

As a female and an art major student, I chose to explore the identity of “female artist”. I have noticed that the great artists known by most people are usually male. I believe that most people, even if you are not an art major, have seen or heard of Mona Lisa, The Starry Night or The Scream, which were all painted by male artists. However, I think it would be hard for someone who’s not an art-related major to name an artwork before the 20th century that’s by a female, let alone the name of the female artist. To be honest, I didn’t even know more than two female artists (painters or animators) before college, and all of my favorite artists, directors and animators were all male. When I was little, I wanted to make animation but never had too much hope because I never heard of any female creators. As I entered college as an art major, I became more aware of the lack of female artists in the past and have been hoping that it would change in the future because it’s going to affect me on whether I can make money as a female artist or not. There are great female artists, but they just haven’t received as much recognition as Da Vinci or Andy Warhol, who have been famous even till now, and this led me to the question of whether there’s any difference between male artists and female artists that makes male’s art more famous than women’s art.

In the popular culture artifacts I found, female artists are portrayed in multiple ways and sometimes contradict with one another, and the artworks they make don’t really follow a certain stereotype. To be more specific, I think the depiction of female artists in popular culture varies from different time periods.

Big Eyes

In Tim Burton’s film, Big Eyes, it tells a true story of a female artist, Margaret Keane, in the late 50s and early 60s and how her husband claimed credit for her big eyes painting art. In the movie, Margaret Keane is portrayed as an obedient wife who never fought for her own art for many years, and because women’s art was still not taken seriously back then, Margaret Keane seemed to be a little unconfident sometimes. Despite the fact that Margaret Keane’s art was not recognized with her own name, the movie ends with Margaret Keane’s triumph on proving to the court and the public that she was the one who painted those big eyes paintings.

Brush with Greatness, The Simpsons

Marge Simpson drawing a portrait of Mr. Burns

In Brush with Greatness, an episode of the Simpsons in 1991, Marge Simpson revives her interest in art and starts to paint again. In the end of the episode, her painting is displayed in the gallery. In this episode, Marge is still portrayed as a caring wife and mother who stood out for Homer when he was insulted because of his weight.

I have heard people saying that female artists tend to be the ones who need to give up their dream when they get married because they have to take care of their children. However, not all of my artifacts match this stereotype. For example, in The Subterraneans, a film based on Jack Kerouac’s novel in the late 50s, it portrays a female artist character as free spirit and independent, but she did have to abandon her pursuit of art and became a wife in the end. But on the contrary, in my other artifacts I have mentioned above, Margaret Keane in Big Eyes uses her daughter as her inspiration, and Marge Simpson’s family really support her doing art in the episode.

I have also heard people saying that women’s art is too emotional and too feminine, but in my opinion, what artist isn’t emotional? As for feminine, I think it differs from person to person. For example, in Big Eyes, Margaret Keane’s art was not specifically described as feminine, but the movie did mention that children with big eyes wasn’t a typical theme to paint for a man. As for Marge Simpson, nobody said her art is too feminine, and all the paintings she did were all male figures like Ringo Starr, Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns. The stereotype of female art being too feminine could be true for the female artists in the past, and in a documentary, The Story of Women and Art, I watched, it explains that a part of the reason why women’s art being feminine is due to their lack of access to male models. Moreover, their art was seldom shown in the public because it was a virtue for women to hide their individuality in the past. Indeed, when it comes to art in the past, women’s involvement in art is usually not being an artist but being a model. In many paintings, muses are depicted as female, but I think it’s funny that people see muses as the source of art and creativity, but why isn’t there many famous female artists who are real in the past? They made art and were creative, and they were female, just like the muses. And this led me to my analysis in the next two paragraphs.


Another artifact I chose is the album cover of Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP. In the album cover designed by Jeff Koon, there is a nude sculpture of Lady Gaga with glimpse of Apollo (music) and Venus (muse) in the back. I feel like Lady Gaga is being portrayed as the muse of music. However, the depiction of Lady Gaga being nude led me to another artifact that speaks about the absent of female’s art in the museum.

It’s a poster made by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group. The poster shows a copy of Ingres’ painting, Grande Odalisque, a nude female portrait but her head replaced by a gorilla head. With a huge text of “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” in the poster as well, it says about most art with nude figures are female, yet art made by female artists can be rarely seen in the museum. The poster reflects that female artists need to be taken seriously as “artists”.

Before college, I don’t remember learning any female artists in the textbooks, and as I have mentioned above, I was worried about if I could become a successful artist since female artists in certain career fields were pretty rare, like animation creators, movie directors or film score composers, etc. However, I think it has been changing in the recent years since more and more female artists are becoming famous through the Internet. Another artifact I found was an interview with Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe, who is also the first female creator in Cartoon Network. In the interview, Rebecca Sugar talks about how art will become more and more popular thanks to the Internet. In the past, the only way to present one’s artwork in the public is through the academy or the exhibition, which were mostly unavailable for women in the past. However, nowadays, people can upload their art online and make it public easily, which I think gives women opportunities to have their art known by more and more people.

In general, through exploring the identity of female artist, I found that there aren’t as many popular culture artifacts about female artists as there are for male artists, and I think this reflects how women’s art was not taken seriously in the past. However, I do believe that it’s going to change in the future that there will be more references of female artists in the popular culture. And I think it’s going to be interesting if I do this research project again after maybe 10 years!

From this class, I’ve learned how to analyze an artifact, no matter an article, a video or an image, with its details. And I think through this kind of method by noticing the contrast and the pattern gives a new perspective on how I would interpret the artifact. As for the weekly discussion and blog post, I think they’re helpful because we get to learn about how different identities portrayed in the popular culture, and at the same time, they keep us on track for the final project.


The Female Artist in the Film Version of Jack Kerouac’s “The Subterraneans”Wilson, Steve, Journal of Popular Film & Television; Washington, D. C.35.1 (Spring 2007): 38-44.(

The Story of Women and Art, Films Media Group, 2014, ( Accessed 19 Feb. 2017. Produced by DCD Rights Limited

Steven Universe, the First Cartoon Network Show Created Solely by a Woman, by Liz Ohanesian, Moday, November 4, 2014 at 9:19 a.m. LA Weekly,(

The Guerrilla Girls poster, by the Guerrilla Girls, (

Big Eyes (2014), directed by Tim Burton

Brush with Greatness- The Simpsons Season 2 Episode 18 (1991), written by Matt Groening

ARTPOP (Nov 6, 2013), cover designed by Jeff Koon



One thought on “The Identity of Female Artist in Popular Culture

  1. Hi Elisa,
    First of all, thank you for mentioning Tim Burton’s. Big Eyes. If not for your mention I would have never known about this movie. I’d love to watch it one day, soon hopefully if time allows. Based off the trailer I have a feeling that this movie is going to be very inspirational for female artists. Anyways back to your point, I too can agree that before college I’ve never heard of anyone to know any female artists that aren’t artists themselves. How did you start to hear about female artists in college? You always hear about Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Goh, Andy Warhol, and many more, but they’re all male. Even now if you search ‘famous artists’ in google you’ll see only men who mainly appear in the search results and not many female artists and I can see how that would discourage many female artists. However, because of pop culture media, we get to see a lot of different artists all around the world on Instagram and different platforms and the work they put out, they’re all mesmerizing, both from female and male artists which I find encouraging for all artists. Your findings showed that big eyes wasn’t a typical theme for a man and I find that true in the old days but now I find wide ranges of drawing in all artists. A female artist I find very inspiring is Corita Kent. Corita was an American catholic nun, and she wanted to produce art, I remember learning that it was a difficult start for her but over the years she gained recognition for her art and it’s honestly a beautiful story. If given the chance do you think you will do research about this topic again in 10 years? And how much do you think it will change given all the technology we have now? Do you think digital art will make a huge impact?

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