How Has Discrimination Against Female Artists Developed Over Time?

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(Maisel)

Who comes to mind when you think of famous painters and artists? Most likely, names like da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Raphael. History is dominated by male figures, and the visual art world is no exception. However, through protests and activism, the feminist art movement attempted to address discrimination against women in the art world. While there has been little improvement in the representation of women in the visual arts and progress towards equality between female and male artists, by advocating as individuals and removing social constructs, we can strive to make the visual arts industry more equal for all.


Personal Interest

My interest in this topic stemmed from two important parts of my identity: my interest in art and my gender. Art has been present throughout my entire life, and recently, I have discovered my passion for visual arts. Another key part of my identity is my gender. I have experienced my fair share of sexism, like blatant experiences where I have been explicitly told that I cannot do something as well as a man, or a subtle experience where men are surprised I am knowledgeable in STEM. Through this project, I have been able to rediscover female artists who have been erased by male-dominated art history and find powerful role models who inspire me and others who feel that they are underrepresented in mainstream media.

Please click on the image to watch an introduction about myself and my topic!


I. The History of the Problem

In the 1960s, only 16 percent of artists represented in New York City’s 33 major museums were women (“Gorilla”). In Los Angeles, while 53 percent of the population between 1961 and 1971 was female, only four percent of artists exhibited in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) were women. Moreover, in the same ten-year span, only one of the museum’s 53 solo shows was held by a woman. Not only were they underrepresented, but female artists earned a fraction of what their male counterparts made. The price of the most expensive piece of artwork was Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange,” which sold for an impressive $20.6 million. In contrast, the highest price of artwork sold by a woman, Susan Rothenberg’s “Three Trees,” was valued at only $209,000, only one percent of what de Kooning’s artwork sold for (“Gorilla”). However, discrimination against female artists inspired women to create change and stand up for themselves, sparking the beginning of the feminist art movement.  

The Beginning of the Feminist Art Movement

The front page of the exhibition catalog for “Womanhouse,” a feminist art exhibition organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro (Takac)

The feminist art movement began in the early 1970s. It was a time when artwork was inspired by feminist art theory, a movement that focused not only on inspiring other female artists but also on reclaiming and restoring female artists’ contributions to art history (Fields 1). The movement also sought to increase the number of art exhibitions solely for female artists, as well as protest the exclusion of women from major museums (Iskin 1).

One of the starting points of the feminist art movement was in 1971 when Linda Nochlin published “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists,” an essay that pointed out the many institutional barriers and obstacles female artists had faced, and how they had prevented women from succeeding in the arts (Lovelace 4). At the same time, there was the opening of the 1972 exhibition of Womanhouse in Los Angeles. Led by Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, and students at the Cal Arts’ Feminist Art Program, Womanhouse was a run-down mansion that was transformed into a space where women could create and exhibit art; the opening of Womanhouse has been cited by critics as the beginning of the feminist art movement (Iskin 3).

After these two events, the feminist art movement began to flourish; previously buried works by female artists were unearthed, and feminist art theories such as seeing gender as an aspect of artistic production and looking at social structures from a gendered perspective were introduced (Fields 2). 


II. The Current Situation 

In the United States, inequality between female and male visual artists is still a pressing issue. Overall, 96 percent of art pieces sold at auctions are by male artists (Bocart, Fabian, et al.). While nearly half of the visual artists in the U.S. are women, a recent survey found that 87 percent of artwork in the permanent collections of 18 prominent U.S. art museums are created by male artists (Topaz, Chad M., et al.). Additionally, in a 2018 study of 820,000 public and commercial art exhibitions, only one-third of the exhibitions featured female artists (Shaw). Not only are women underrepresented in the visual arts, but on average, they earn only 74 cents for every dollar made by a male artist (Iyengar, Sunil, et al.). Between 2009 and 2018, while more than $196.6 billion was spent on artwork at art auctions, only $4 billion (about 2%) of the work was made by women (“Get”).

(“Get”)

III. Steps Being Taken to Address Discrimination 

Today, groups and organizations like the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and ArtTable have made efforts to fight discrimination and improve equality for female artists.

The NMWA sponsors two events to support female artists: the “Women to Watch exhibition”, where emerging female artists display their work, and the “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon”, where female artists are written back into art history. The “Woman to Watch” exhibition aims to increase the visibility of underrepresented and emerging female artists in specific art fields like metalworking, portraiture, and photography. The most recent Women to Watch exhibition, held in 2018, highlighted female artists working with metal and sought to “disrupt the predominantly masculine narrative” by showcasing contemporary metal pieces created by women. The NMWA also holds an annual Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, where museum hosts edit and revise Wikipedia entries to include important female artists and female art world figures. Since 2014, tens of thousands of people have created and improved 60,000 Wikipedia articles about women in the arts (“Become”).

NMWA museum hosts holding their annual Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, 2018 (“Get”)

ArtTable, an organization that is dedicated to advancing the leadership of women in the visual arts, conducts annual fellowship programs to work with graduate students and emerging professionals to address the lack of diversity in arts employment. Since 2000, through mentorships and work opportunities with professionals, ArtTable has supported women who have gone on to be curators (14 percent), museum educators (11 percent), and hold director-level positions (6 percent) (“Impact”). 


IV. Steps to Erase Discrimination

AS AN INDIVIDUAL:  

  1. Educate yourself by reading up on surprising statistics and learning about past prominent and current emerging female artists so you can advocate and support female artists in your community
  2. Encourage friends and family to visit exhibitions and galleries that support gender equality, or advocate and petition museums and galleries to give female artists the same opportunities as male artists, whether it be equal representation in art spaces and exhibitions or fairly vetting museum curators and directors.
  3. Finally, follow female artists on social media and buy works of art to support female artists directly.

By becoming a more active supporter, you can spread information on how to support and fight discrimination against female artists.  

 

AS A SOCIETY:

  1. One crucial step that can be taken to erase discrimination from within is to destroy the social construct that men are superior to women. To usher in a new generation where everyone is equal, we must:
    1. Educate young children on the importance of diversity and emphasize that women and men are equal
    2. Teaching young girls and women to stand up for themselves and fight for their values
  1. Museums and galleries, as well as private businesses and corporations, can conduct annual evaluations to ensure that women are equally represented.
  2. Schools should review art history curricula to ensure that women artists are given equal attention as male artists.

By employing our voices and changing society, we can hope for a more fair and equal future for all female artists around the world.


V. Feedback!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read about the obstacles and triumphs that female artists have faced throughout history and today! If you have time, please think about these prompting questions and leave answers, comments, or any other queries below. 

  1. Do you have a favorite female artist or art piece by a female artist?
  2. How do you plan on educating friends and family about underrepresented female artists and how they can help?
  3. What are steps you are going to take to equal the playing field and support female artists?
  4. What museums or galleries should include more women in their exhibits?

To get you started, a good website to visit to learn about gender inequity in the arts is “Get the Facts,” run by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). 


VI. Links

  • Click here to read more about my personal interest in the topic. 
  • Click here to read more about the history of discrimination against female artists.
  • Click here to read more about the feminist art movement.
  • Click here to read more about the discrimination current female visual artists face.
  • Click here to read more about current activism combatting discrimination against female artists.
  • Click here to read about more steps to take to alleviate discrimination against female artists. 
  • Click here to view my consulted works
3 Comments

3 comments

  1. I plan on doing more research and educating friends and family about this topic. I also plan to sign petitions and keep an eye out for female artists when I visit museums. This was an amazing presentation, Alex!

  2. Hi Alex,
    I previously didn’t know anything about discrimination against female artists- your presentation is so informative! I especially found your statistics/infographic to be extremely powerful. I will definitely make sure to look for female artists’ work at museums/galleries! Overall, amazing job!

  3. Hi Alex! Your project was great!! I really enjoyed your use of numerous statistics and data points you added in your webpage, as they were extremely helpful in understanding the discrimination against female artists. Personally, I didn’t know much about discrimination against female artists, and due to that, I believe educating more on this pressing issue should be a priority.

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