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Lessons from the Women Who Made It

In spite of the fears and obstacles, their passion for art burned strong enough to keep them determined to rise. Last Monday Christie’s London invited all the art lovers to an evening celebrating such fearless and successful women in the arts. Among beautiful performances three female leaders in their field came together to share their experiences on the panel discussion:

Dr Alison Smith, chief curator at the National Portrait Gallery

Carla van de Puttelaar, fine art photographer and art historian

Katrin Bellinger, art collector and dealer and founder of "The Tavolozza Foundation"

I’m delighted to share their inspiring thoughts below.

About the Past and Utopian Future

Katrin Bellinger: "When I started, I remember, when I came to Christie's, or when you, –addresses the panel moderator, – worked here, you were not allowed to wear trousers, you had to wear skirts. And it was very regulated."

Carla van de Puttelaar: "Well, I think that for me, ideally is that we will all work together as human beings, and that we will all be sought after for our talents. And then to have a real inspiration, as many people as possible blossoming and being inspired. For me it's a very positive idea. The most valued artists at the moment are still mostly men. But I think a lot of things are changing."

Dr Alison Smith: "I had my first full time job at Birmingham University in the early 1990s, I was the only female member of the arts department. I had a colleague, who was one of the few women in the history department, and the head of that department started each meeting on a Monday morning by saying "Good morning, gentlemen". And she would object. And I think that's rather amusing. Because just the other week, a male colleague of mine at the National Portrait Gallery objected when someone started the meeting and said "Good morning, ladies". So you could say the pendulum has swung the other way. There are lots of women in the art world and the room is full of women in here. But at the same time, I think it's important to remember that the top jobs, director level, are still occupied by men. So I think that has a long way to go. And I also think women shouldn't rest on their laurels. And in fact, there is a lot of inequality in the art world. And I think in terms of diversity, there's a lot to be done."

Very Personal Lessons in Art and Business

Katrin Bellinger: "I always say it's not a straight path, it's very unlikely that at age 18, you already know what you want to do. And as our world is changing so fast, you have to be open and flexible. And figure out what it is that you really love to do and what you're passionate about, what you don't mind when you're working hard. And the hours get late, because that's what keeps you going. And, you know, who knows what it might be, and you know, it will lead you somewhere. I remember when I was young, I had no idea where I was going, it's very disconcerting, You have to trust. One thing led to another and they helped me end up where I wanted to be."

Carla van de Puttelaar: "Well, I promise to say something about low points. Because when I think about it, it's actually two things. But let's say I remember that I always wanted to make my work. That was very important, however difficult. However, I had to do a lot of other things, raise children. I mean, I remember I worked till about two days before I was delivering and it was crazy. I'm a complete workaholic. And so I've always been that. But I remember that I was so focused on making my work and looking after the children as well. And then helping my husband and his business and everything. So multitasking at the top. But I hardly went to my openings, because I just had to do all the other things. So suddenly, I found out when I was in an opening years ago, that people knew my name, but they didn't know my face. And I was so shocked that I was sort of anonymous in a way. And I thought, oh my god, I really want to be there, enjoy it, experience it with all these other people. And that's what I learned, but I was crying."

Katrin Bellinger: "I think in every business, even if you work very, very hard on it, sometimes it doesn't come through. And I think I always try to embrace that. You give your best. And it's all about the past and how you get there. And then you do not worry too much about the result. Easier said than done. Because, of course, it's disappointing if you've worked on something incredibly hard, and that doesn't happen. You're trying to learn the lessons from what went wrong and pick yourself up and move on to the next."

Out of the Kitchen

Dr Alison Smith: "I think it has a lot to do with the separation of public and private life, which existed in the past. And so the idea was that men operated in the public realm and women more in the domestic realm. And that has a lot to do with what women actually achieved in the arts. So I think that is the basic structure of women's exclusion. And I think now it's been a wonderful, wonderful time for looking at women's achievements in the arts. I think the tables are completely being altered, if you will, with exhibitions taking place across London. A lot of them do focus on artists, not just contemporary artists, but female artists from the past. I think we're applying that retrospectively to the past, and all sorts of histories come into light."

Carla van de Puttelaar: "Because muses are needed for artists, always, whether they're male, female, gender neutral, whatever. I mean people. I'm a people's person, I always look at people and love people and get inspired by people."

Dr Alison Smith: "And then what is relevant for artists is the idea of friendship. And I think a lot of artists today are finding the idea of painting friends or colleagues relevant."

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