April 19, 2022

What role do women play in art? How are they perceived, what influence do they have? How was it in the past, and how is it today?

Since the 1970s, at the latest, the under-representation of women in art has been a recurring theme. Has gender equality in art been achieved in the meantime?

In many eras, women were widely denied artistic abilities. The female brain, it was said, was not constructed accordingly. They rarely had access to artistic training, and were not allowed to attend nude classes - and if they painted anyway, the (mainly) male world assumed that they would leave it alone as soon as they were married.

It even happened that women had to be asked by gallery owners: "Why should I exhibit you? You're married, aren't you?"
Much has changed. Our understanding of gender roles is different today. So you would think that the days of a male-dominated art world would be long gone.
Or would it?
Unfortunately, it's not.

According to a study of sold artworks between 2008 and 2018, the share of female art was only 2% of the total proceeds in that period. Old structures are only gradually coming undone. No wonder, female artists are still overshadowed by their male counterparts in the current perception.

Admittedly, no one would publicly claim any longer that women are incapable of creating art. At the academies, there are often more women studying than men. However, this has not yet reached the museums and galleries. Only about 30% of all artists represented by galleries are female, and only 10-15% of works by female artists hang in museums.

Women in art - famous artists

Even if access was made difficult for women, female artists existed throughout all epochs. Pictorial manuscripts in the Middle Ages, for example, were often produced by nuns.
So women in art were not necessarily the unique exceptions they liked to be portrayed as. They were just never as visible as their male counterparts.
And yet, time and again, women artists achieved general recognition.
I present a few of them here.

Can you identify them by their bio?

Do women have to be naked to get into the museum?

In 1984, the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed an exhibition of what were supposed to be the most important contemporary artists. Of the 165 artists shown, only 13 were female, and all the artists shown were from either America or Europe. No other part of the world was represented. In protest, the "Guerrilla Girls" were formed a year later - a group of artists who effectively drew attention to sexism and racism in the art world with various actions. On a poster, for example, they complained that only 5% of the artists exhibited in the "Modern Art" department of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York were women, but 85% of the nudes were female. And they put it this way:

"Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?"

The "Guerrilla Girls" still exist today. In Anglo-American, English and German-speaking areas, they criticize the institution and organization of the art business through various actions. And something is moving. In 2019, MOMA announced it would better reflect the diversity of our society after closing for renovations. Director Glenn Lowry promised to offer exhibition space to more female artists, works by people of colour, and artists who are still unknown.

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About the Author Lea Finke

Lea Finke is an artist with all her soul. In her blog, she talks about inspiration, passion, and encounters with art.

  • Interesting statistics on this rift between women and male artists doing exhibitions. I’ve read and thought about this as well. Thanks for shedding light on it! 🖼☀️

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