Imagine living in a world in which women are not allowed to smoke in public, study art along side of men, wear pants, or ride bicycles without having stones hurled at them. Should a woman prove herself to be a genius of sculpture, a profession in which only men are seriously regarded as masters of their crafts, imagine her being labeled either as a witch or described as having male genitalia. It is nearly inconceivable that women would want to subject themselves to such idiotic treatment as this and pursue a career in sculpting. Camille Claudel not only pursued sculpting, but excelled at it to the point of becoming, herself, a master.
I often wonder what our world would be like if the hands that held the reins of power belonged to women. Would we have a more peaceful and tolerant world, or one plagued with wars? Would opportunity be available to all regardless of sex and race, or would injustice and discrimination block paths to success? I find it interesting that when I go into Barnes & Noble to shop for bookends for my bookshelf, I’m able to purchase bookends crafted in the shape of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (You know, the famous statue of the guy sitting with his head down and chin resting on his fist in deep contemplation), but not bookends molded in the shape of Camille Claudel’s sculpture The Age of Maturity.
Like any aspiring artist, my goal is to one day make it to Paris. I dream of seeing all the wonderful paintings and sculptures on display in the museums there, and walking the same streets that some of the world’s greatest artists stepped foot on. In my brief study of French artists, I’ve seemed to gravitate to the story of Camille Claudel the strongest. I read Camille Claudel: A Life by Odile Ayral-Clause and watched Camille Claudel a film by Bruno Nuytten. I felt entranced by her statues, drawn to the passion that seems to emanate out of each and every one of them. And of course, disturbed by how she was persecuted by a male dominated society for her unconventional lifestyle and artistic expression.
In the end, Camille Claudel would die in an insane asylum after being held against her will there for 30 some years. I’ve had my own experiences with mental health facilities, having been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder some years ago. I shutter to think of a time when a person could be admitted to an asylum against their wishes, at the discretion of others who may object to their living a life which did not necessarily fit the expectations of society at large. After all, what separates a genius from society is just that! A genius does not comply with the expectations of society. A genius operates outside of those expectations.