A recent topic of study for me has been how the art world has always been and continues to be a man’s world. Mostly white men at that. I’m preparing for a very large argument I feel needs to be had, so I’m gathering my sources and increasing my knowledge base. Thought I’d amass some links and pull quotes here, where I can easily find them and other people can read them if they feel so inclined (and you probably should read them).
We find that paintings by female artists sell at a discount of 42.1 percent. So on average, a painting by a woman will sell for much less than a painting by a man.
What Adams and her colleagues find is that affluent people who visit art galleries, especially men, rate art as less compelling when it is said to be painted by a woman.
Art by women makes up only 3-5% of the major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe, even though women earn half of the Master of Fine Arts degrees granted in the U.S. In New York City’s art galleries, 88% of the American artists are white.
Since white, straight, cisgender men get to occupy museum spaces, they also get to dictate how the bodies and experiences of marginalized groups like women and people of color are represented. For instance, judging from Greek and Roman nude female sculptures, vaginas simply didn’t exist during that time period. All of these sculptures of female bodies have “genitals” that look absolutely nothing like real human vaginas; between their legs, there is simply a hairless, smooth triangle with no indication of a vulva, pubic hair, or protruding labia. On the other hand, penises are documented in great detail on the male nude sculptures.
From the 16th-19th centuries, women were denied access to the classical training needed to become esteemed artists. During this time period, studying nude models was considered “too inappropriate” for women, so female artists were forced to create only the kinds of paintings that were considered less valuable at the time like portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. History has also devalued traditionally feminine art such as quilting, embroidery, needlework, and china painting because of their “domestic” natures, yet it assigns great value to traditionally masculine forms of art like paintings and sculptures.
The other issue at the root of this problem is that the people in power who get to decide what art and artists are valuable are also predominantly white, straight, cisgender men.
The under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in executive positions is just one small symptom of an industry dominated by white, European men. Female artists are almost entirely absent from historic art collections; their work goes for much less commercially and they are still massively underrepresented in contemporary art institutions.
It is important to understand the impact this bias has had on the art world. These galleries, with outposts across America and Asia, are global tastemakers; championing artists, funding their work and introducing them to the world’s wealthiest collectors. It is still the case that the art that we consider to be the most valuable, in monetary but also cultural terms, is almost all by men. It is the reason that the museums in the world considered to have the greatest and strongest collections are the ones that boast works by Turner, Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso, Pollock, Rothko, Koons, Hirst and Hockney. That a female equivalent for each of these artists doesn’t roll off the tongue says it all.
Commercial galleries showing 40% female artists and state museums showing 34% female artists in 2014 tell a different story – one where commerce, history and taste are more traditional and hierarchical. The closer an artist gets to money, prestige and power the more likely they are to be male. These results are not surprising as they mirror those in almost all other areas of creative production as well as in almost all spheres of power and influence.
In the first experiment, we find that participants who are male, affluent and who visit art galleries have a lower appreciation of works they associate with female artists. In the second experiment, we find that affluent participants have a lower appreciation of works we associated with a female artist’s name, particularly when they visit art galleries. Since affluent males who visit art galleries are most likely to represent the typical bidder in an art auction, we believe the evidence is consistent with the idea that “Women’s art sells for less because it is made by women”.
As artist and professor Joan Semmel put it: ‘…if there are no great celebrated women artists, that’s because the powers that be have not been celebrating them, but not because they are not there.’
Here’s a collection of statistics and links from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, that I don’t have time to dig through right now.
And in closing, a study from Texas State University’s Journal of Research on Women and Gender: Still A Man’s World: The Gendered Experiences of Women Artists.
Probably not all the data I will need to gather, so expect more posts full of links about gender equality in the arts.