I wanted to share Grace Glueck’s tribute to the life and art of painter Helen Frankenthaler. Glueck reviews the basic details of Frankenthaler’s life – her education in the intellectual environment of Bennington College, her marriage to painter Robert Motherwell, how long it took to become widely known, her experimentation with woodcut techniques, her love of entertaining, her passion for dancing, her creative process:

The landscapes were in my arms as I did it. I didn’t realize all that I was doing. I was trying to get at something — I didn’t know what until it was manifest. There is no formula. There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go.

But I can’t help being particularly interested in Frankenthaler’s refusal to align herself with the feminist movement of the 70s. For me, being a ‘lady painter’ was never an issue, she was quoted as saying in John Gruen’s book The Party’s Over Now (1972). I don’t resent being a female painter. I don’t exploit it. I paint.

I understand that sentiment exactly. When I was acting, I was an actor, never an actress. Nor did I see myself as a female theatre director or female jewelry designer. I don’t now consider myself to be a business woman or a female writer. I work. I design. I write. Plain and simple.

Yet it’s certainly well worth noting that Frankenthaler and Motherwell came from prosperous families. I think of Virginia Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, in which she declares that in order to be a writer a woman must have 500 pounds a year and a room with a lock on the door.

Had Woolf not been bequeathed such a yearly amount to sustain her by a wealthy relative, I have always wondered whether she would have succeeded as a writer.

And I can’t help asking the same question about Frankenthaler. The support of her prosperous family does not take away from her talent, yet perhaps it made it easier not to “need” the women’s movement for support.