Are you familiar with The Great Women Artists Instagram account yet? Launched by Katy Hessel in 2015 after finishing her art history degree, her daily posts of, yes, work by great women artists, have since soared in popularity.
The art is varied, attention-grabbing and generally beautiful of course, but the pictures shared by @thegreatwomenartists are also an antidote to the side of social media that we all tend to struggle with. "[It’s] an account that’s positive and doesn’t make you feel jealous or left behind," Hessel tells Refinery29. "The response is so nice because people just seem really engaged with it. Even people who thought they didn’t like art, or didn’t really know anything about it, they still feel they can learn something every day."
Hessel started the account because she noticed that, despite years of studying the history of art, she was very rarely taught about female artists (if at all) and struggled to find them exhibited in galleries. She saw an opportunity to proactively celebrate the women who weren’t being shouted about elsewhere. "I love the subject so much, and it’s so important because so much of the time people only know the 'greats'. If you go up to [someone] in the street, the greats that they say are probably always going to be men." I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that the rhetoric of our society remains deeply embedded in the fine art world, too.
Beyond the famous men we see exhibited all the time, there are so many incredible women artists to know, see and get excited about, but it's only in the last couple of years that big galleries have started to give them the space to be seen. London's Serpentine Galleries are hosting an all-female lineup in 2019 and, as Hessel and I speak over the phone, she's just hours away from flying to New York for Sotheby's first ever female Old Masters sale.
Things are moving, visibility is growing, and it's clear that Hessel is excited to be a part of it. "I think it's changing with the rise of the internet," she explains. "I wouldn't have a voice if it wasn’t for the internet at all! I actually curated a show about female artists who use Instagram as a platform for their career and I think there is a correlation between the rise of fourth wave feminism and the internet."
Next month she'll be heading to Tate Britain to curate a Great Women Artists event for one of their after-hours 'Lates' and with all her expert knowledge, it seemed only logical to ask Hessel to point us in the direction of some great people to check out this year. Ahead, she briefly talks us through her top seven female artists and their exhibitions coming up in 2019. Have your Instagram and calendar at the ready.