Those Brontë girls may have overcome their share of gender stereotypes and difficulties of being women writers in a restrictive time, and, sure, they may have filled my nightmares with images of monstrous villains and spooky hillsides, but they also kept falling tragically ill with consumption and the like. Mariah, meanwhile, has been mothering twins, rocking a high-profile marriage, maintaining her reputation as a lady you don't mess with on the music charts or in real life, and facing down Nicki Minaj. That is one hearty contender. I think I know where I'd be putting my money.
Great artists don't just have to exist in galleries. Books have given us some really inspirational pre- or post-feminist characters that are good at art, and this liberates them either emotionally or physically. What unites them is their independent thinking, as they are determined to go against the grain and not end up like their peers, bitter or vacuous. Some examples here are from classic novels, such as Jane Eyre, where art is a form of escapism for our heroine, whereas in Andrew Davidson's modern novel The Gargoyle we find a sculptress whose work is so consuming that it leaves her exhausted. Whatever the situation, it is clear that these women take their art seriously—it's not just a hobby to keep them occupied before they're whisked off by Prince Charming. This is so much better than a fairytale.