When Money Defines the Workplace: Economics and the Woman Artist in Contemporary Fiction
Forced by the weight of convention, women artists have traditionally confined their art to the private realm: playing piano exquisitely in the parlor, fashioning beautiful crafts for the home. The artist's workplace, the public world in which art is displayed and remunerated, has traditionally been a man's world, off-limits to women. Taught to restrict her art within the "proper" sphere of home and family, the woman artist thus finds making the leap to the public realm of art particularly difficult. Indeed, the artists in contemporary women's artist-novels are notable for their efforts at escaping and avoiding art, at belittling their own efforts and denying their abilities.
In these artist-novels, the need for money for herself and her children gives the woman artist the justification, the strength and self-confidence, to seek an audience and declare her artistry to the world. However, in novels like Arnow's "The Dollmaker"(1954), Atwood's "Lady Oracle"(1976), Godwin's "Violet Clay"(1978), and Hazzard's "Sheltered Lives"(1980), while financial necessity frees the woman to embrace the public role of artist, it simultaneously leads her into a cruel economic cul-de-sac: justifying her art by making it profitable, she becomes trapped producing readily saleable hack work. In defining the role of the artist in the contemporary feminist Kunstlerroman, the commercial workplace both frees and limits the woman artist.
Keywords: Woman, Artist-Novel, Kunstlerroman, Money, Commercial, Workplace, Feminist
Dr. Susan E. Lorsch
Associate Professor of English Literature, English Department, Hofstra University