Creative Constructs

Are there real differences in the way men and women produce and relate to art?

By Michal Rovner, Israel’s best-known artist internationally (photo credit: Courtesy)
By Michal Rovner, Israel’s best-known artist internationally
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even in this postmodern, technologically enhanced, virtual world of ours where, literally, anything goes, there still appear to be a few demarcation lines in place. One of the surviving boundaries is that which sets men and women apart.
Yes, we all have a bit of both in us, and men talk about connecting with their feminine side, and vice versa, but it remains to be seen whether anyone can provide concrete proof of differences between the way men and women relate to, and produce, art.
Rodi Bineth set about doing just that when she conceived the idea of a symposium on the topic.
The event took place a couple of weeks ago at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and was attended by a predominantly female audience of over 150. Bineth did not pull any conference-organizing punches and lined up a stellar speaker roster that included Prof.
Daphna Joel, who serves as head of the Psychobiology Department at Tel Aviv University; Bineth’s colleague Dr. Graciela Trachtenberg, who lectures at the academic college’s School of Government and Society, visual artist and philosopher-psychoanalyst Prof. Bracha Ettinger; and Haifa Museum curator Ruti Direktor.
The symposium was held under the auspices of the college’s Israeli Art Educational and Research Institute, and addressed a range of subjects relating to differences between the genders in art, focusing in the first session on the psychological, biological and sociological aspects.
The seed for the gathering was sown many years earlier, 23 to be precise. “In 1990 there was an exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum, which was curated by Ellen Ginton, who is still the Israeli Art curator there,” explains Bineth. “The exhibition was called ‘The Feminine Presence’ and looked at women in art from 1978 through the 1980s. I decided to take a look at what has happened in Israeli art, in that respect, since then. That is the second part of the symposium.”
Ettinger, who is an artist in her own right, contributed works to the 1990 exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum.
Bineth was particularly excited about the contribution of Joel to the proceedings. Joel’s main area of research focuses on understanding the involvement of basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits in normal and abnormal behavior, using mainly animal models of psychopathology. The basal ganglia components of the brain are associated with a variety of functions, including voluntary motor control, procedural learning relating to routine behaviors or “habits” such as eye movements, and cognitive and emotional functions. The latter certainly made Joel an appropriate participant in the symposium, and she is conducting an ongoing study into the perception of gender identity.
“At the end of the day, Joel believes there are almost negligible differences between the female brain and the male brain,” continues Bineth. “But despite that, you still have men and women, and significant differences between them.”
Bineth is interested not only in the scientific side of the artistic domain, but how the gender divide is reflected in the balance between men and women who actually engage in the field as, for example, curators and gallery owners. “I don’t know how the balance works there, but I can tell you almost 90 percent of the people who write about art in Israel are men.”
In terms of practitioners, the situation is more balanced. “I think there are about the same number of female and male artists in Israel,” notes Bineth, “although the most famous Israeli artist in the world today is a woman – [video, photo and cinema artist] Michal Rovner.”
The symposium also, naturally, addressed the feminist aspect of the field, with Ettinger entrusted with the topic. While feminism certainly finds its way into art, Bineth is not so sure there is room for it.
“I don’t think there should be art that is specifically oriented towards conveying a feminist message. I think art that is created under some kind of banner is not pure art. As far as I am concerned, art should, first and foremost, be judged by its quality, and by the way it communicates.”
Then again, Bineth, who has been in the art business for over 30 years – including around 25 years at the Bineth Gallery that was founded by her father, Gershon Bineth, in Jerusalem in 1962, before moving to Tel Aviv in 1969 – is keenly aware that artists and art lovers alike bring their own personal agenda to the works. However, she also believes if the creator of the work is driven by one narrow area of interest, that could be detrimental to the end product. “If an artist, like in any other walk of life, only has one thing on his or her mind, when they create I am afraid the work they produce will probably not be very interesting. It will be channeled towards conveying a particular idea, and I don’t think that should happen with art.”
Bineth does not go for the gender approach to art. “I think there is good art, and less good art and poor art,” she states. “Within the domain of good art, there are works that relate more to the issue of feminine presence, and there are works that address that issue less.”
The symposium organizer says that, to her mind, there is nothing cut-and-dried about the feminine element in art. “Prof. Joel claims there are two types of brains – the masculine and the feminine brain.
But others take the view that there are sociological phenomena which come to bear on the way works of art are created. And Graciela [Trachtenberg] addresses the sociological aspect of art. They are the two extremes of this subject.
“The question is where you place more emphasis with regard to the presence and role of women in art.
Is a person’s approach to their art congenital, and is it dictated by the fact that they are a man or a woman? Or is it the way the artist was brought up, or other baggage that really comes to the fore in their creative work? I presume it is a mix of the two.”
Ultimately, the symposium aired a range of views to the audience and, says Bineth, opened the door for further examination. “Possibly the most important and interesting upshot of the symposium is that addressing ‘the feminine presence’ in art legitimized and opened up the door to examining the approach to art by other ‘compartmentalized’ groups. It is important to keep things open.”