Who Does She Think She Is? is a terrific documentary that discusses the challenges, rewards and struggles of women artists in our culture. Director Pamela Tanner Boll introduces us to five women who I am convinced I would never, ever had heard about had this documentary not been made. They were all extremely interesting but the stand out is Maye Torres, a sculptor and painter based in Taos, NM. This is a woman born to create. You can see that while watching her in her studio, you can see that when she speaks, you can see that when she interacts with her amazing sons (who value their mom and her work in such an impressively sophisticated way). She could not do anything else with her life, yet she has never been valued -- either with recognition or with commissions -- as a male artist is.
It is well documented in the arts that women's work is undervalued and at times dismissed (see post from earlier this week: The Art World Doesn't Treat Women Equally) because the feminine sphere is deemed as "less than" the maculine sphere. Women artists, just like women activists, have been erased from history. This is not news, but its still interesting to see it played out in real life. Director Boll shows how these women balance their lives and their families and how these women are better artists for being mothers, and are better mothers because they can embrace their creativity. I thought it was really interesting and raised important questions about what we value in our culture and why.
Check out the trailer:
Director Pamela Tanner Boll answered some questions about the film:
Women & Hollywood: Why do you think this is an important film?
Pamela Tanner Boll: Because the "work world" still operates on an assumption that a "serious worker, serious professional" will work single-mindedly--more than forty hours a week. And this leaves no time, no energy for parenting. We say we value "mothering" yet we ask our families to cobble together sub-par child care arrangements--if both parents work full time. In the art world, this problem is compounded by the fact that art-making, often does not pay, is sometimes dismissed as a "hobby" and is considered an "extra." Art is the first program to be cut in the schools--yet art--whether storytelling, music-making, visual expression, sculpting--is what defines us as human AND, at its best, gives us a sense and a picture of what matters to us as a people. The great civilizations of the past are known to us by the art they left behind. Pots! And houses and temples and paintings.W&H: What do you want women (and men) to learn about these women and their work?
PTB: I want men, women and children to see that art-making is a vital aspect of being human--that it adds pleasure and knits together communities. I want people to see these women doing their art and raising their children and understanding that "art" can come out of the weaving together of these roles. Our notion of the artist is often one who stands outside of society--a loner, a defiant. These women enrich the lives of everyone who experiences their art WHILE being present for their loved ones. Art comes out of their care-giving. It's a new model.W&H: How did you come up with the idea to make a documentary like this?
PTB: The film came out of my own experience of coming back to writing and to drawing only after the birth of my first child. I'd been a poet in college, won awards, but turned my back on the blank page and its bottomless demands, feeling it would be too difficult to keep imagining new worlds. And I was terrified of becoming a bag lady--unable to support myself--so went to work on Wall Street as a commodity trader. This was the 80s and women were supposed to have "serious" careers! Then I had a baby and the unending love and huge terror I felt for him plunged me back into writing--the only way I had truly ever been able to make sense of my experience and to mark the moments of my life. I am now the mother of three nearly grown young men. Beautiful. launched. But me? Even though I wrote stories and painted and had exhibits and readings--the work was always done in the cracks of family life. And I felt guilty, torn, never in the right place...so I set out to see how other women had handled this.W&H: How do we help make the feminine sphere more powerful in our culture?
PTB: We make the feminine sphere more powerful by refusing, as a block, as a body-- to act as though our caring, our work in the family and for the family--is not work. Men and women need to stand up together and take back their lives--80 hours of work a week does no one any good in the long run. We have to start valuing work done in the home--monetizing the labor of love.W&H: What are the goals for your film? Will you be showing it in schools?
PTB: Goals-- I want the film to start a conversation about living a life where one's heart, mind and body are more integrated. I want the film to inspire young people to sing, to write, to paint. I want older people to see that to sing, or tell stories or to sculpt--can energize and enliven one's self and community AND that one need NOT be a "genius" or "talented" to pursue these acts. We have done ourselves a disservice by allowing only those who are "gifted" or "talented" to pursue the arts. To be expressive is human. And to express some of the experiences unique to women--is overdue.W&H: What message do you want to send through the title- Who Does She Think She is?
PTB: How many times have I stopped myself from saying something, from writing, from sharing a new painting because "who do I think I am." I think women are still sensitive to the criticism of standing out, calling attention to oneself. The good woman puts her needs aside for the sake of others. Or she risks being called selfish. This film shows women who give themselves permission to be at the center of their own lives, to dream their dream without turning their backs on the dreams of those they love.Film opens in NY at the Angelika Theatre today. Director Pamela Tanner Boll will be at the 5 and 7pm shows today (Friday) and tomorrow for a Q&A following the screening.
More info: Who Does She Think She Is?