Throughout history, women have been famous figures of artistic representation. Whether you look at the Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000 – 33,000 BC), the Victory of Samothrace (200 BC), The Birth of Venus (1483–1485) by Boticelli, the Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Vermeer, Olympia (1863) by Manet or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Picasso, women are the protagonists. Nonetheless, what do most of these pieces have in common? They were made by men.
Women artists through history
As we revise our history of art books, we realise that women artists are almost non-existent. Is it because they were less interested in art or, simply, not producing it? No, nowadays we know that women have actually been involved in art creation since ancient times, but they have remained more or less marginalised or little considered. Often they were also pushed to categories that were considered as crafts, rather than fine arts, like textile or ceramic arts. It’s only by the Renaissance period that women started to be encouraged to create, for it was considered as desirable (by men, of course) for them to be accomplished in the arts.
The 17th century, artist Judith Leyster, who worked at the same time as the Dutch master Frans Hals, experienced public recognition while she was alive, but her name fell into oblivion after her death. It was only by the end of the 19th century that her name re-emerged, when 7 of her paintings were known to be wrongly attributed to Frans Hals. To counteract patriarchal barriers, some female artists adopted male names, like Grace Hartigan who signed her works as George Hartigan. Others, just signed their works with their initials, like Lee Krasner.
By the 19th century, differences between male and female artists started to shrink, mainly due to new techniques that were appropriated by women. Nonetheless, we would have to wait until the 20th century for female artists to be recognised in Western countries. For the same reasons they were pushed to art crafts, female artists embraced new materials and new media, ignored by men, like photography and video, becoming innovators and groundbreakers in performative arts and installations. By the 1970s, a powerful feminist art movement had started. By calling attention to identity, sexuality, politics and history, female artists have deeply shaken, if not dominated the debates surrounding art for the past decades.
Frida Khalo, “Las dos Fridas”, 1939. Museo de Arte Moderno, Ciudad de México.
Women artists nowadays
Yet, female artists are still underrepresented nowadays. For example, today only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women. Is that because there are less female artists than male? Well, statistics show that women earn 70% of bachelor of fine arts and 65 to 75% of master of fine arts degrees in the USA, though only 46% of working artists (across all arts disciplines) are women. In the UK, 64% of undergraduates and 65% of postgraduates in creative arts and design are women, but 68% of the artists represented at top London commercial galleries are men.
So, could this be a problem related to the private sector? Well, though women earn 71% of the art degrees in Australia, only 33.9% of artists represented in state-run galleries and museums are women. Over the past decade, only 11% of acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions at 26 of the most prominent museums in the USA were made by female artists. Furthermore, in 2019 the represented artists in the most prominent museums in the USA were 87% male.
If by any chance you do make it as a female artist, there’s more you should know: in the USA, on average, you will earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists. That is if you are younger than 55 years old. If you are older, you will probably earn only 66¢ for each $1 earned by men. On the public auctions’ sector, which represents nowadays 35% of the fine arts market, there are no women in the top 0.03% of the sector, where 41% of the profit is concentrated. Overall, 96% of artworks sold at auctions are by male artists. Actually, if more than $196 billion have been spent on art at auction between 2008 and the first half of 2019, work made by women accounts only for just $4 billion, around 2%.
Guerrilla Girls, “When Racism And Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable, How Much Will Your Art Collection Be Worth?”, 1989. © courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com
These numbers portray a terrifying picture of the contemporary art market, where female artists are clearly still underrepresented and undervalued. Has that much changed for them in the last century? Why do we keep facing a profoundly male-dominated sector? In art2act, we believe that one of the many reasons that create this catastrophic scenery is the concentration of the market. As seen in our article A Glimpse at Today’s Contemporary Art Market, the fine art market is highly concentrated, where luxurious art sold in rich countries represents the vast majority of the total market sales. This part of the sector, controlled by few major sellers, appears to be the one offering a major resistance of entrance to female artists, as statistics show that smaller art dealers tend to represent more of them than their larger concurrents.
As a democratic platform, made and developed by artists and for artists, art2act is deeply engaged in the equal representation of talent. We want statistics to show the reality of a sector filled with highly educated, accomplished and skilled women. This is our engagement now, when we already count 55% of female talent in our community.