For this week’s episode, I had the privilege of interviewing Margaret Dolinsky. Dolinsky is an accomplished artist and head of the digital art department at Indiana University. In our interview, we talk about digital art, feminism, and utopias.
M: Hi, I’m Margaret Dolinsky and I’m head of digital art here at Indiana University, and my claim to fame is virtual reality. I’ve been doing virtual reality for some time now and I really love situating experience in 3 dimensional worlds. I’m really interested in art and how art can reconfigure the rhetoric around virtual reality.
K: My first question is, have you experienced misogyny as a woman in the field of digital art? If so, how?
M: The really wonderful thing about women in digital art is that we’re very prolific. When computers and art became a popular avenue to pursue, it was wide open for both men and women. So women were able to enter the field very readily. It turns out that a lot of guys built the computers, and the way that they could get girls around was if there were girl artists around. So pretty soon, women who were hanging around with techno guys started to become technologically advantaged. And so you see a lot of computer scientists supporting women artists and you see a lot of women in the field of digital art. This turned out to be quite an advantage for the field as a whole because now the conversation around art and computers expanded to both genders and creativity was infused within the technology. I think that in terms of misogyny, there’s an incredible phenomenon called unconscious bias and we tend to have unconscious predilections towards certain behaviors and thoughts. And I think that’s pervasive throughout society. And actually occurs in academia, in the art world, and in computer graphics. Now, when we talk about video games, and how those same computer scientists with the technology actually romanticize the female figure through computer graphics, we can see it either as an adulation of the female figure or as a form of misogyny in that they began to search for the “perfect woman” that they could build themselves rather than suffer through actually trying to converse with us.
K: Video games, video game women can be so frustrating. Because I know I’ve talked with my friends a lot about how it’s so impractical to fight in a bikini.
M: Mhm. But it’s funny because a lot of guys want to be the avatar of the woman in the bikini.
M: So… what’s that all about?
K: I don’t know, that’s a good question. Um, but my next question is, what effect has digital art had on feminism?
M: So there’s a definite reciprocal relationship between digital art and feminism. I believe that digital art really empowered women intellectually and in their work by allowing the playing field of computers to be leveled for both men and women, because we were discovering it together. And that was a very exciting time. Some of the most interesting pioneers in digital art like Laurie Spiegel in electronic music and Steina Vasulka in video art and interactions, are really the goddesses of digital art. You see a lot of men who have really laid the claim to lots of digital art, but it really has really been infused with a lot of women. I think it has the same types of dynamics, that, um, the traditional art world has.
K: How has the art world changed for women since you became an artist?
M: It feels like there’s a lot more women artists, and it feels like there’s much more information available about women artists, but I think when you look at the statistics of who is actually being shown in galleries and how many museum shows are being dedicated to women, I think the numbers still continue to be really low. And it is problematic, but with technology, women are able to connect to one another more readily, and be able to get their work out there much more easily, so technology has really empowered women artists and made us much more visible. And that’s been hugely helpful to women who are pursuing the field.
K: Do you think those numbers will start evening out?
M: They’re not even close. The numbers for women being able to have solo shows in New York City are still very grim, and I’m hoping that they will even out, but I think we have a long way to go.
K: I agree. You are a professor in addition to an artist. How do you create a feminist classroom?
M: Perhaps it’s a feminist classroom just because I’m a woman teaching the class, and so that situates me in a power position above the students and in direction of the instruction. And I definitely feel like I am not emulating a man but really tapping into my powers as a woman when I teach my classes.
K: I’ve been reading “The Feminist Utopia Project,” which is a book edited by Alexandra Brodsky and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff. The book is a collection of writings about people’s different ideas of what a feminist utopia would look like. What would a feminist art utopia look like to you, and what would be different and what would be the same?
M: I think one of the major things that would be different in a feminist art utopia is that it wouldn’t matter whether the piece was created by a man or a woman. That the artwork by women would be seen as equally valuable. And I think that would be huge. I mean, I think it’s part of that unconscious bias I was talking about earlier.
K. And there have been many instances of historical art criticism where before someone knows it’s a piece by a woman they think it’s great, and then after they find out it’s made by a woman they think it’s cute.
M: Yeah, I think that’s a long time coming. And I have a feeling that because we are children of women and we kind of seek women through our mothering, that I think those kind of… intrinsic dynamics that we have that we know the mother as being forgiving and the father as not being as forgiving in the traditional sense. And for some reason that is embedded in a societal sense, and because most of our major corporate figures and political figures are men, we still…are exposed to male authority constantly. And so the male name is always going to be privileged.
K: What do you think the future of women in digital art looks like now?
M: Obviously I think it’s quite exciting. I mean, it’s amazing. The people that are moving and shaking the conversations around digital art are definitely women. We are in many, many service roles across organizations, conferences, and industry and we help shape the conversation around what we’re doing in ways that bring together lots of people from different areas. And I think it’s pretty exciting the way we can communicate more readily across distances and across fields.
K: I would agree. That’s part of the reason why I really like the field of digital art. I think its really… like what you said before, about how technology really empowered women, I think that’s why, part of the reason why, I’m so attracted to it. I feel like it’s such a level playing field compared to some other fields.
M: And the thing is that women are open to their emotions, and they’re open to social situations, and they’re very interested in how people are talking and acting and being, and that’s experience. That’s an insight into experience that I think can be translated into digital art and interactive art. And because we understand how we want to work with things, and how we want to talk across the medium to other people, a woman’s voice is very valuable in infusing creativity in technology.
K: I agree! Thank you.
M: You’re welcome.
Brodsky, Alexandra, and Rachel Kauder Nalebuff. The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2015. Print.