Diana Zhou for Woman in Art Initiative - 2016
How would you describe your art, both throughout your career and your current work, and the inspiration behind it?
I think my work has always been about trying to take up space. I expand the edges of everything. More specifically, I have made bodies of work about historical periods in NYC, sports, and architecture. There is a lot of questioning of boundaries, both physical and philosophical.
When and why did you decide to pursue a career as an artist?
Very early, in elementary school. But I didn't realize you could be a studio artist-I only knew about graphic arts so I originally went to school thinking I would end up being an illustrator. I always made art, but I was not sure where it came from.
How do you think the art world has changed from the beginning of your career until now?
Drastically. When I came out of school there were very few opportunities for young artists. You had to work your way up slowly. My first dealer told me: "No one has a solo show before the age of 30" and it was, for the most part, true. It is so much better now, but there is also more risk for early burnout. When I first started out, no one cared about your first idea, let alone financially supported it. I would have killed for that kind of support back then, but I am also glad I had time to develop.
Do you think your gender has had an impact on your career and if so, how?
Definitely. It is a fact that women are taken less seriously in the art world. It is outrageous how much harder we have to work. I have been very fortunate in my career but I have also worked very hard, not only in the studio, but also teaching, lecturing, etc. Most of my male friends don't have to do that. Financial stability is so much easier for them to attain, but they also want it more, and I am not sure which came first. Women want less quantifiable things. A German dealer once told me that if I had a penis, I would have taken over the world by now. I still don't know how to react to that.
Though women earn half of the MFAs granted in the US, only a quarter of solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women. (Brainstormers Research, 2006 and Saltz, Village Voice, 9.21.06) Why do you think this is? How can we change this?
It's simple: men are considered more marketable, because art history tells us over and over that they are tortured geniuses, and collectors like to buy what they are comfortable with. To change this, we need more women-owned galleries, which is already happening, mostly on the Lower East Side. We also need a paradigm shift and a larger power structure overhaul. Every creative industry has this same problem.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for young female artists?
Develop a very thick skin. Ask for what you want. Resist the urge to nurture male artist friends without reciprocation. Recommend more women for things. Don't just compete with women, compete with everyone. Be fun and optimistic, but don't be a little ray of sunshine all the time. Be fierce. Keep the focus on the work. Keep going, ruthlessly, harder, stronger. Take up more space.