Article by Rianna Last
It’s a tale as old as time. For centuries, female artists and their contributions have been consistently underrepresented and undervalued across the world. In the U.S., artwork by women is less likely to be shown in art museums, galleries, and auction houses than those by men, and is also at a disadvantage when it comes to selling price. Nowadays, women make up nearly half of all artists nationwide—so why doesn’t the art industry reflect this?
Let’s Talk Stats
As we enter into our second decade in the 21st century, gender equality can feel like a problem of the past. Yet when you look at the data, it turns out our society isn’t as advanced as we like to think.
As of 2019, 46% of visual artists and photographers are female in the U.S., yet women earn only .74 cents to every $1 of their male counterparts. Sound familiar? In fact, there is a $5 billion gap between the totals earned by the top male and female artists. When it comes to living artists’ records, famous female artist Jenny Saville tops the list with her painting Propped selling for $12.4 million in 2018. The male record sits at a staggering $91.1 million in 2019. Propped was considered revolutionary for Saville’s depiction and rejection of standardized beauty notions, yet still sits $78.7 million away from Jeff Koons’ steel sculpture Rabbit. Both were sold within a year of each other.
It doesn’t stop there. Taking a look at the infographic to the left, collections across 18 major U.S. art museums were found to be 87% male and 85% white. Surprised? So are we. The data reveals a lack of diversity that has gone unnoticed—or unacknowledged—in society for quite some time. This means that the art we admire and buy is oftentimes a reflection of just one group in America. In other words, it’s biased toward white men. It’s time to turn our attention to gender equality in art.
The Psychology Behind the Numbers
In truth, these numbers should serve as our wake-up call. Society has been perpetuating gender imbalance in art, even if unintentional, the last several decades. A lot of it comes down to bias and risk.
Open any art history book, and you’ll easily find information collected on contributions by men. Looking for female representation in art history, however, would take a lot more digging. Long dominated by male artists, this default has rendered women in art history somewhat of a niche category. This societal bias toward men means that women artists are often unconsciously perceived as a more risky investment. The truth is that men with prominent names are more guaranteed sellers, making art collectors less likely to gamble on women. The same goes for buyers. After all, society likes to reinforce the status quo, and female artwork isn’t always in trend.
In fact, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that women began to actively challenge this mindset. Back in the 80s, one activist group of feminist artists began tallying the number of women in art galleries and showings across the nation. The results of these report cards were pitiful; a 1986 tally reported the highest number of women artists at just 4. Fast forward to today, that same group—known as the Guerrilla Girls—has continued to campaign for more female representation in art. One of their most famous feminist art campaigns (conducted first in 1989, then again in 2004 and 2011), shows that even 30 years later, not much has changed.
Knowing all this, it can seem a daunting task to inspire real change when it comes to representation of women in art—but that’s no reason not to try.
The Next Steps: Supporting Female Artists
It’s now time to break the cycle, and a large part of that responsibility lies in the art community. Whether it’s art museums, auction houses, or galleries, each must do its part to take on more female artists.
That’s why the Artlita Artist Community is 48% female. Founded by a female entrepreneur, empowering women has been at the core of Artlita’s mission, and this is reflected in the makeup of our featured artists. It’s important to us that we actively choose to support female artists, and in turn encourage our customers to buy work by women. With female artists such as Becky Black and Julieta Valdez in our artist roster, our carefully curated art collection appeals to a broad range of tastes and aesthetics. Check out our video at the end of this article to see some of the masterful work done by the female artists at Artlita.
The best part about buying artwork by women? It’s a smart move financially. Art is a financial asset, and in a time of volatile markets, a safe investment. Art by women factors into that equation too. Indeed, if art can be defined as a reflection of our society and a catalyst for change, then it follows that the future of art lies in gender equality. By investing in women, you are investing in the future of art.
Living in an era of activism, society recognizes and understands the reasoning behind why we need to actively invest in female artwork: to dismantle the gender imbalance. Additionally, we recognize the financial benefits with investing in art, a move that requires looking to the future. Yet perhaps the most gratifying reason is, as Mary Gabriel at the Times puts it, “…that work by women deserves support and attention because it is worthy.”
After reading this article, we challenge you to name five influential female artists in the twenty-first century.