I first met Jen Ament at the first Artists for Progress fundraiser at the Piranha Room right after the 2016 election. There were so many people at the opening it was hard to move, the art on the walls was angry, raw, heartbroken - like we all felt. I loved it, and the gathering actually made me think that something good might come of the mess America had found itself in - something good in the unified air of resistance, coming together. Such is power of art and community, and Jen kicked it into high gear that night. She also impressed me because she's authentic and a girl's girl. Jen exemplifies the CURA ethos - feminist, activist, community-oriented, kind, and always, always, always creating. We asked Jen a few questions about the being an artist and an activist, and this is what she said...
C: Jen, your work is provocative and so easy on the eyes; simple lines, simple shapes, minimalist color, yet you say so much with precision. It is both comforting and challenging. On top of it you work in so many different mediums, it's like your different mediums, encaustics, oils, acrylic murals and print making are different dimensions of who you are. Is that an accurate analysis? And, what do you think it is about your work that resonates so deeply with so many?
JA: Thank you for the flattering descriptions! I think with my prints resonate in more of a personal way and my paintings bring a more fantastical, version of the human experience. My prints begin of drawings and include my portrayal of the evolution of our consciousness. Change, music, and magic are my favorite things to draw.
C: Activism is an important part of the work you create. You started Artists for Progress, a non-profit organization that has raised over $75K for the ACLU and The Northwest Immigrant Rights Society. Many of us want to contribute more to society - can you give us a glimpse into starting a non-profit and org like Artists for Progress?
JA: When I first started Artists For Progress, it came out of the shock of the 2016 election and wanting to immediately dive in and try to help the institutions that were very affected, and maybe even naively thinking we could change the outcome. I think most non-profits come from a feeling of hope and an extreme, fiery passion for societal change. To start one, it really is just jumping in, and having a couple of people to help drive it with you. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and we ended up raising more money than I ever would've thought.
C: Your journey the way you tell it was to becoming a visual fine artist was circuitous, but your drive, trust in yourself and trust in your process got you here. You have a very real impact in Seattle and beyond: What would you tell a woman who is curious about following her creative heart to a career with meaning?
JA: Starting something just for you and no one else, makes your work much more meaningful. It takes all of the meaning, purpose, and fun out of it, if you are worried about others reactions to your work. I would say first and foremost, you must practice your art consistently.
C: CURA exclusively shows and promotes the work of PNW female-identifying artists. We do this because, as with most industries, the inequity in the art world is startling. Take, for example, these statistics:
In the top 20 most popular exhibitions around the world in 2017, only one was headlined by a woman artist: Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul at the National Art Center, Tokyo (The Art Newspaper)
On average, only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries in the U.S. are women. In Australia, it’s about 40%; in China, 25%; in Hong Kong; 22%; and in Germany, less than 20%.
Only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women. (artnet News)
In an analysis of the 3,050 galleries in the Artsy database...10% of galleries have no women on their books at all, while only 8% represent more women than men. Almost half (48%) represent 25% or fewer women. (The Art Newspaper)
How much conversation about these truths is happening in the art world in Seattle?
JA: This is a huge issue with me, and incredibly disheartening. I have seen a small change with this issue over the years, and I think we're more aware of it in Seattle, but it's still a constant battle across the country. Some of the larger museums and galleries that have been around forever need real change. So many of us have never been approached by a gallery for representation, and if a gallery represents women, most are from out of state. Galleries need to represent more local artists, more female identifying, and more people of color. Museums need more modern art, female identifying work and more work by people of color.
It HAS to change. On this topic, I just read an article by a HUGE, million dollar making artist that was mother shaming, saying they think mothers can’t be good artists, and that they don’t have enough time to make good art. I've experienced judgement of people thinking I'm a lesser mother, or lesser artist, just by being a mother. It makes me want to work harder to prove my worth as an artist, which can sometimes feel like a burden and is unfair. Would they say this about men if they had 4 jobs? I also recently started working on murals, which is a male dominated art form. Why is this, I wonder? I'm not sure if it’s because people think women can’t get up on scaffolding on a huge wall on a tall building? Or have a bigger fear of heights? Or are weaker? It's all far from the truth. On a good note, I think this will all change in the future and will always be evolving. In a more evolved state, we would be fighting for more transgender artists, and underrepresented humans in general, being represented in galleries and museums. I have hope for the future, and feel really lucky to be one of the female identifying artists that have a semblance of success in the ever changing landscape of the art world.