WHY IT’S TIME TO PAINT WOMEN BACK INTO ART HISTORY
The theme of International Women’s Day 2018 is to press forward and progress gender parity. Unfortunately, the art world is not immune from gender inequality, which is why Dellasposa Fine Art is joining the growing number of voices calling for more to be done to #pressforprogress in the art world.
Founder of Dellasposa, Jessica McBride, was inspired to follow a career in art precisely because of strong female role models: “I was introduced to art through my grandmother, and great-grandmother who was an artist; she was quite successful during her time and exhibited in London and Paris. Being surrounded by art when I was growing up demonstrated to me what women are capable of; they gave me an impression of what women can do.”
While Jessica had strong personal role models, her academic background in the history of art undermined the positive associations that she had grown up regarding women in art: “My great grandmother’s success told me there has always been a presence women artists in the world, but they have been written out of the history books; painted over time and again.”
Gender inequalities – the evidence
This is far from an anecdotal observation; many studies have confirmed the disparity between men and women in art:
Research by artsy.net of 13 renowned artistic couples revealed that the male artists had a higher auction record 69% of the time
A survey of 1.5 million auction transactions in 45 countries found a 47.6% gender discount in auction prices for paintings, with the discount being greater in countries with lower gender equality. The academics concluded: “Women’s art appears to sell for less because it is made by women.”
A study of the gender gap in art museum directorships found that women hold fewer than 50% of directorships and the average female director’s salary lags behind that of her male colleagues. This disparity was found to be greatest in the largest museums (those with operating budgets of $15 million or more), where female directors earn on average only 71% of the earnings of male directors.
While 65-75% of students in Master of Fine Arts are women, only 25-35% of artists represented by UK and US galleries are women. Across all arts jobs, women, on average, earn $20K less than men.
Gender disparity – the reasons
The reasons for this persistent inequality are complex. Museums don’t show an artist until they have reached a certain point in their career; if you go to The Tate, you will only see artists that have reached a peak in their career, which has often taken 30 to 60 years to achieve. Those that reach this pinnacle tend to come from a very small stable; The Art Newspaper reported in 2015 that nearly a third of solo museum shows in the US between 2007 and 2013 had been of artists from five of the worlds’ biggest galleries.
The auction houses won’t sell art unless there is a market value; this is determined by how many museum shows the artist has had, whether they have been placed in important collections and what press coverage they have received. This means the auction houses represent blue-chip artists that always come up at auction, who have generally been represented by the same handful of dominant galleries.
Meanwhile, other artists are never represented, which becomes a vicious circle; the market value for an artist who has been largely overlooked for years will always be low.
The concentration of power in the art world with a few key galleries leads to the same artists appearing at auctions and in museum shows, with the vast majority of artists overlooked. In a world where the most senior people in the museums, galleries and auction houses are men, the persistent disproportionate representation of male artists is perhaps a self-fulfilling prophesy.
A cultural zeitgeist
The seeds of change prompted by movements such as #metoo are being replicated in the art world. Jessica McBride is proud to be involved with particular organisations that are determined to address the art world’s prevailing gender disparity:
Marguerite London “is a network of savvy and influential women working in the arts, all with a strong desire to support each other in their climb to the top”
The Association of Women in the Arts (AWITA) “brings together inspirational women working in the arts to share contacts, mentor each other, collaborate and create a new kind of community”
Jessica is also looking forward to being involved with The Allbright, London, “the first space of its kind in the UK for women to create, connect and collaborate… a space for women to thrive”, which is due to open soon.
It’s no coincidence that these two networks and this new private members' club for women are aligning at the same time. There is a growing sense of urgency that change is needed – now.
Be the change
All of us within the art world have a role to play - to paint women back into the picture. On a personal level, we will be proactively looking to represent more female artists. But we are a small player in a very big pond.
As a sector, we all have to be responsible and create an overall decision about the role of women in art history. Galleries, journalists, art fairs, museums and auction houses are all part of the jigsaw, and for this change to happen, these pieces all have to fall into play with each other.
But individual collectors and smaller galleries, such as Dellasposa Fine Art, are where it starts at the grassroots level. AWITA has been set up precisely to spearhead and champion this change, so it is beginning to happen and we have a vital role to play. But we don’t own the solution; it also needs to be recognised higher up, by those who hold the real power.
To continue the conversation and discuss how you want to support women in the arts, call Dellasposa on 020 3286 1017.