Since 2010, Steven alan Bennett and Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt have been collecting paintings by contemporary women artists who work in the figurative realistic style; that is realistic paintings, often stunningly so, of people. It’s an approach that the couple embrace for authentically depicting and celebrating women in all their complexity, power and vulnerability. As the couple’s collection has grown, so has their awareness of inequities that confront women in the arts.
Museums and galleries present far fewer exhibitions of art by women, have fewer pieces by women in their collections, and, when women’s pieces are collected, they generally sell for less than works by male artists. Over the course of time, figurative realism has fallen out of favor in many art schools and universities. Troubled by these trends, Steven and Elaine created The Bennett Prize through The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy. Through the Prize, they hope to create an appetite for figurative realism and increase the likelihood that women who work in this genre will achieve the critical acclaim they deserve.
The Bennett Prize comes as a growing number of women painters pursue figurative realism to portray the human diversity that both enriches and confounds the world today. Figurative realist painting features the human form in all of its diversity. The genre has an important role to play in contemporary society, where we are struggling to understand both our differences and our commonalities. Art expands what we see and how we interpret what we see.
Goals of The Prize
By propelling the careers of women painters who have not yet realized full professional recognition, empowering new artists and those who have painted for many years, and showcasing talented women figurative painters, The Prize will encourage women painters to take their place among the most celebrated painters, often men, dominating the art world today. The Prize will also expand opportunities for the public, who may not be familiar with figurative realist painting, to learn more about the creative vision of talented women artists in this increasingly popular genre.
The Prize is not open to hobbyists, students or artists who have been paid, or received an award, of $25,000 or more for any single work of art.