Betty and George Woodman to be honored in Snowmass
July 14, 2010
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Over 57 years as a married couple, plus a few more pre-marriage years, Betty and George Woodman have made together a life that has art at its center.
The two visit one another’s studios on a near-daily basis. If Betty begins to follow an interesting artistic path, she will be sure to let George in on the exploration, and vice versa. In New York City, where they live most of the time, the couple expand the conversation outside of their own work by regularly visiting galleries and museums, and sharing their insights on what they have seen. Some years ago, the Woodmans even collaborated in their art-making, with George adding painting elements to Betty’s ceramic pieces.
But beyond letting one another in on their respective art-making process, the exchange of thoughts on what is happening in the art world, and the occasional collaborative effort, both Betty and George find a more vital aspect to being part of an artistic couple. The mere presence of someone nearby, following a parallel course, serves as a reminder that the pursuit of art is a worthwhile one.
“You get going, and you come to a point where, if the people around you are wondering, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’ you begin to ask yourself the same thing,” Betty said. “But we’re not saying to each other, ‘Why aren’t you getting a proper job?’ The other says, ‘No, I’m staying in my studio and working.’ That part of it is very supportive and very helpful.”
“Simply by example, we have an impact,” George said. “If I stop to take a break, I’ll think, ‘Betty would never do that – I better get back to work. There’s somebody else there, and what she’s doing validates what I do, gives dignity to it, makes it important.”
There has been one generally strict boundary to their interaction: the Woodmans have rarely shown their work together, over concerns about competition and having their art considered on something other than its own merits. So the present circumstances in the Aspen area are most unusual. Last week, an exhibition titled Betty and George Woodman opened at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village. On Thursday, July 15, another exhibition, also featuring recent works by both artists, opens at the Harvey/Meadows Gallery at Aspen Highlands, with a reception at 5 p.m. and an artist talk at 6 p.m. Both exhibits feature the artists working in their most recognizable medium: colorful, sculptural ceramic pieces and works on paper by Betty; multilayered black-and-white photographs, centered on the human figure, by George.
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The two will also appear together Wednesday as Anderson Ranch honors the Woodmans with the National Artist Award, in the Annual Recognition Dinner. The event, at 6 p.m. at the Viceroy Snowmass, will also feature Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio, owners of New York’s Clark + Del Vecchio Gallery, who will be presented with the Service to the Arts Award.
Paul Collins, who directs the painting, printmaking and critical studies programs at Anderson Ranch, said the Woodmans were worthy of being recognized for two separate facets. As teachers – especially at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where both had extended tenures – they had a significant impact on the Ranch itself, counting numerous staff and board members and program directors as former students.
On the art-making side, both Betty and George have been widely exhibited, with Betty having had a retrospective of her work in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“These are two artists at the top of their game,” Collins said. “A lot of artists, as they progress in their careers and the work goes up and up in value, the work gets dealt with in a more and more precious manner. This is the opposite. You look at the current stuff and it’s dealt with in a more visceral, high-energy way. It looks like young work. It’s great to have that type of
The Woodmans will also be featured in Aspen on the big screen. New Views: Premiere Documentaries, a new series presented by Aspen Film and the Aspen Institute, will present C. Scott Willis’ “The Woodmans” on Aug. 2 at Paepcke Auditorium. The film profiles the Woodmans through the story of daughter Francesca Woodman, a noted photographer who committed suicide in 1981, at the age of 22.
The Woodmans met when George was a ceramics student of Betty’s at Harvard. But as far as specific lessons learned, it was the student who eventually enlightened the teacher. Betty at the time did not aim to be an artist; she wanted to be a potter, and the early part of her career was focused on making functional pots. George, who had yearned to be a painter from the time of middle school, influenced a change of course, mostly by his example.
“Looking at myself as an artist, which I’ve done for the last 30 years, was a gradual evolution,” Betty said. “And I think it was because of George, and the kinds of concerns and intentions he had. It was an expansion of the context in which I saw my work, definitely.”
George notes that it is fairly uncommon for two artists to be married, and stay married. “A lot of artists are intensely egotistical and self-occupied,” he said. “It makes it hard for them to have a relationship with anyone. The statistics are, fewer artists are married or have families. You need specific abilities: patience and tolerance, trying to see someone else’s point of view.”
“Both of us being artists has contributed to us being able to stay together,” Betty said. “Whereas with most people, it contributes to their not being able to stay together.”
The Woodmans agree that their shifting domestic life has been crucial to their relationship. Betty, who was raised in Boston in a Jewish family, and George, a WASP from New Hampshire, moved to Boulder in the late ’60s. In the early ’80s, they bought an apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood – a courageous move, they said, that took them out of a comfortable middle-age existence as teachers, and raised the ante on being artists. For 30 years, they have also owned a home near Florence, Italy.
“That helped. We had three different social scenes,” Betty said, adding that they moved out of Boulder in the mid-’90s.
New York has been significant in letting the couple broaden the conversation about the art world. And in exchanging ideas about what they see, they have developed a bigger sphere in how they see art.
“Frequently we find there’s a larger judgment than what we have for ourselves,” George said. “Betty will point out things she’s seen, and I’ll go back and look and there are things that I would have written off. Our view of contemporary art has been greatly enlarged by our interactions. We don’t have the same view, but we get a prodding and criticism that makes us much more open in how we look. We see with four eyes.”
Imagining life with a partner who is not an artist is not a pretty picture for either of the Woodmans.
“Dreary,” is how George sees it.
“I don’t think I really can imagine it,” Betty said. Being married to an artist, she concludes, “It has its richness.”