The Alliance for the Arts’ Member Gallery Book Club will meet on Tuesday, November 18 to consider Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany. On the heels of German artist Georg Baselitz’s controversial claim earlier this year that women lack the basic character to become great painters, the book invites a discussion of the accomplishments of female artists – at the turn of the 20th century and now.
During the Gilded Age just before the turn of the twentieth century, Tiffany forged his reputation in stained glass. His highly recognizable style blended Art Nouveau, the exoticism of the Aesthetics Movement, and his own adoration of nature. Until recently, it was assumed that he was the designer of the brand’s celebrated leaded-glass lampshades. However, two collections of letters now suggest that a heretofore unheralded woman by the name of Clara Driscoll may have design the floral shades, as well as many of the bronze bases.
Clara and Mr. Tiffany presents these two figures – one the giant of American decorative arts, the other unknown – as they engage each other, collaborating, probing and frustrating each other, stumbling over their passions. Told from Clara’s point of view, the story explores her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman. Her greatest triumph was the dragonfly lamp at the Paris Exposition, though she was not given credit for her work. And in the end, Vreeland forces Clara to make the cliched choice between professional accomplishment and personal happiness.
Which plays into that whole character comment made in February by Baselitz, who haughtily proclaimed, “Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact. And that despite the fact that they still constitute the majority of students in the art academies.”
While Vreeland may have opted to be true to the times in which the story takes place, the novel does serve as an intriguing metaphor for University of Leeds art historian Griselda Pollock’s contention that it’s not that women are inferior to men, but that 20th century art historians have edited out much of the contribution of women painters. “Women have also been put down, when they are good, as having talent and taste but being too nice and not taking enough risks. It’s a sexist hierarchy.”
Does Mr. Tiffany represent the male-dominated art world that seeks to repress talented women? Does Clara Driscoll symbolize the uber-talented woman artist struggling to gain the accolades and recognition she richly deserves?
The Member Gallery Book Club meets from 7-9 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month. Club members must purchase their own copy of each book. A discussion guide will be available for download at artinlee.org beginning November 1. Pre-registration is encouraged – an active Alliance membership is all that’s required. The club continues on Tuesday, December 17.
Alliance individual memberships are $50 per year, and a family can join for just $75 per year. Membership benefits include 20% discounts on all classes & workshops, a wide variety of FREE class Try It sessions, discounts on theatre tickets and youth camps, special exhibition opportunities and the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting a vibrant community of artists and art enthusiasts here in Southwest Florida. Please visit www.artinlee.org or call 239-939-2787 to become a member today.