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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gender Specific Art Sales

Opening up a can of worms here.  I know it.  I almost didn't.  And I hope that haters will consider what I have to say and look at things from the perspective of the woman artist. If not...consider that you are part of the problem and not of the solution. I do believe open dialogue is important to our society so...here goes.

I believe that the sale of art is more often than not gender specific to the artist, as opposed to the quality of the artwork.  

Shocking I know.

It has occurred to me over and over as I have done research and explored subject matter for teaching art classes, that there is a surfeit of information available on artwork created by men and about male artists. There is, likewise, an appalling deficiency of information available or artwork by or about female artists.

Georgia O'Keefe's "Ram's Head"
Yes, there are exceptions.  Some of the most notable in recent history are Margaret Bourke-White,  Dorothea Lange,  Anne Geddes, Annie Leibovitz, (see 19 most influential female photographers), Georgia O'Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassat, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell,  Tamara de Lempicka, Yayoi Kusama, Alina Szapocznikow, Tracee Emin and loads and loads of artists who are showing in galleries and have shown in galleries since the 1950s on.  Still, unless you are an avid medieval art history buff or an art history scholar, my guess is that you cannot name five female artists (without looking it up) who lived and worked prior to 1850.  Why not?  Well, because the data and information simply just doesn't exist.  Its not that women were not making art.  It's a drive within us that I don't believe just "got turned on" in the 20th Century.  I could only think of one women from pre-1850 off the top of my head and that was Hildegard of Bingen.  

Hildegard of Bingen's "Universal Man" illustration. Early 13th Century.
Yes, I realize that in the earliest years of mankind we didn't have a method of documenting such as we do now.  I also realize that in the earliest years of art history, many artworks were not signed by anyone.  That being said, once we began to document and sign artworks widely, there still was a serious lack of acknowledgment for females in the art world.  Was it just another old boys club?  It would appear to be so--although I am certain, as with every aspect of humanity, there were women involved.  Somehow, they apparently just didn't seem to warrant noting by those doing the noting (men). (Please know, I am NOT a man hater.  I have a fulfilling and loving relationship with a man, I have many male friends and associates and I enjoy the friendship and perspective of men.  I find that men's contributions to the world are valuable as well as women's.)

I wish I could say that this sorry state of women's place in the history of art was history.  Unfortunately, you only have to pick up any art related magazine and make a general count of how many women artists are listed in art gallery show advertisements compared to men, or even how many articles in the magazine have to do with or feature female artists.  It's fairly unusual.

Margaret Bourke-White
I like to be optimistic and believe that we are evolving and embracing diversity in the art world.  But change is slow to come.  Just take a look at where women stand in the "top-selling" art compared to the single artworks that have sold the most at auction.  Please note when you get to the listing of the single artworks that NOT ONE of those listed is female.  Also look at the prices for a SINGLE piece of art by those males as opposed to the top selling female artists.  More that half of the women listed for their current all time sales don't even have sales matching the bottom ranking single artwork of the men.  You might also notice that almost ALL of the women in the "top-selling" ranking are from the late 1800s forward.

As a woman and as an artist, but especially as a woman artist, I am disgusted by this.  For those men who do not believe it is more difficult for women in the world to make it, then they clearly have their heads...in the sand.  It is challenging enough to be an artist, to get your work seen and purchased.  It is significantly more difficult if you are a female artist.  I don't like being or crying "victim" and I believe we have a hand in making our own destiny--but let's face it, we are in a collective world and the current influence and power structures in almost every single aspect of our lives is overwhelmingly run by men--many of whom still unfortunately do not consider women as their equal, though they may give lip service to the contrary--the actions of society are quite telling in this regard.

There is a serious gender bias in artwork display and exhibit, purchasing and marketing.  It is time for female artists to insist upon equal representation and to be included in art collections and discussions around the globe.  I believe, and this is just my personal opinion, that the smartest collectors will be adding artworks by females to their collections because the future of art is in the female perspective.

Perhaps the prehistoric culture had it right.  Perhaps we should all stop signing our artwork, or at least use pseudonyms so that the artwork can be accepted and collected for the artwork, and not because of the name attached to it.  I'm sure this is a pipe dream and I highly encourage everyone to consider the discovery of more female artists.  We have something to say and share with the world that is every bit as vital as that which the world has received from male artists.

To be fair--I'm embarking on an "unofficial" study and will be keeping a list and making photos of art gallery ads and articles over the next 6 months to see what the actual numbers are in publications of women artists to male artists so this will be an interesting study.