It’s no secret that when learning art history in class, male artists tend to take the forefront. We all learn about Picasso, DaVinci and van Gogh, but it’s rare that we hear a female name when learning all about art history.
In an era before ours, women weren’t allowed to be artists. In fact, many had to use pen names if they were painters to hide their identities. But now, there may be more female contemporary artists than men! There are tons of interesting and important female figures within the history of art, and it’s important to learn about their legacy as well. With that being said, here’s the rundown of 6 female artists that every teacher should know!
Not much of a reader? Don’t worry -- we made short, classroom-friendly videos on the art and biographies of these fantastic women on our Youtube playlist!
1. Frida Khalo
Surrealism / Self Portraiture | Mexican Painter (1907 - 1954)
Best known for her unique and raw self portraits
Learned to paint while bedridden from a terrible accident
Painted 144 paintings, 55 were self portraits
Often painted about her own emotions that resulted from her injuries, and painted in a way that showed her love for her Mexican heritage
Was married to another famous painter, Diego Rivera
Learn more about her and her work in our free video FRIDA KHALO: Art History for Kids!
2. Mary Blair
Animation / Colourist | American Artist (1911 - 1978)
Known best for her colour work on Disney movies from the 1940s and 1950s, such as Peter Pan, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland
Even though she worked mostly with animation and colouring, her work is considered abstract due to her use of shapes
When she left Disney in 1953, she became a successful graphic designer
Mary Blair designed the It’s A Small World attraction at DisneyLand and Disney World
Learn more about her and her work in our free video MARY BLAIR: Art History for Kids!
3. Beatrix Potter
Illustration | American Artist (1866 - 1943)
Best known for writing and illustrating Peter Rabbit and being the illustrator for many other established books, such as Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella
Had a love for nature and it’s beauty, and was initially a scientific illustrator of fungi and other plant life
Some of her earliest illustrations were for greeting and holiday cards
She was passionate about nature, and was known for breeding Herdwick sheep
The money she made off of selling Peter Rabbit books and merchandise went towards buying a farm, which you can still visit to this day
More than 2 million Potter books are sold across the world every year, which is 4 books per minute!
Learn more about her and her work in our free video BEATRIX POTTER: Art History for Kids!
4. Yayoi Kusama
Pop Art / Installation Art | Japanese Artist (1929 - Present)
Yayoi Kusama is best known for her sculptures that involve polka dots, including pumpkins and entire rooms
Often plays with the concepts of infinity and repetition within her work
While best known for her sculpture and installation work, she is also a poet, novellist, illustrator, performance artist, experimental filmmaker, fashion designer and painter
Yayoi Kusama often uses her art as an outlet for her mental health issues, and she openly speaks about it while living in a mental institution
In 2016, Time Magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world, however, she only gained mainstream popularity while in her 80s
Learn more about her and her work in our free video YAYOI KUSAMA: Art History for Kids!
5. Emily Carr
Modern Art / Expressionism | Canadian First Nation Artist (1871 - 1945)
Carr’s work mostly revolves around the art of the West Coast First Nations, and the natural landscape of West Coast Canada
Not only was she one of the most notable and original painters in Canada, but she was also one of the only major female artists in all of North America and Europe
Was associated heavily with the Canadian Group of Seven
Was a favourite of the Women’s Movement due to her triumphing over her obstacles as a woman of the time
3 schools in Canada are named after her, including Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, BC
Later also became a writer, and her first book, Klee Wyck, won a Governor's General Award
Learn more about her and her work in our free video EMILY CARR: Art History for Kids!
6. Georgia O'Keeffe
Modern Art / Abstraction | American Painter (1887 - 1986)
Known as one of the most significant and well known modern artists of the 20th century, painting abstract landscapes inspired by New Mexico and Hispanic culture
Initially, however, her recognition was found through paintings of New York skyscrapers and her unique paintings of flowers
As a member of the National Woman’s Party, O'Keeffe had to fight against the gendered notions of her work and promote herself as a professional artist
Eventually, in the 1950s she began to travel internationally, and painted all of the places that she had visited, including Mount Fuji and Peru
Learn more about her and her work in our free video GEORGIA O'KEEFFE: Art History for Kids!
There are countless other fantastic female artists who haven’t been recognized in the art world as much as they should have, such as:
Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the first recognized female painters in the Baroque period (Italy, 1593 - 1656)
Mary Cassatt, an impressionist painter who specialized in portraiture rather than landscapes (1844 - 1926)
Faith Ringgold, a modern American artist who's best known for her narrative quilts (1930 - present)
Kara Walker, a modern American painter who's best known for her tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes and exploration of current social issues (1969 - present)
Berthe Morisot, a French painter who was integral to the start of the impressionist movement (1841 - 1895)
Kenojuak Ashevak, known best as a leader in modern Inuit art and as one of Canada's most acclaimed graphic artists (1927 - 2013)
...and many more. But women have been a part of the art world for just as long as the men have, and they deserve the same amount of attention!
If you’d like more free resources for your classroom, check out our resources for teachers section on our blog! Be sure to also check out our Teachers Pay Teachers page, which is full of worksheets and lesson plans that you can use for your class!
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