The $192 billion gender gap in art
The art world has a massive gender pay gap. Works by female artists are sold at a fraction of the price paid for comparable works by male artists.
Of the $196.6 billion spent on art auctions between 2008 and 2019, work produced by women accounted for just $4 billion, or around 2% of total sales. Luckily, the tide may be turning, and work by women artists is beginning to receive more recognition and rewards.
The gender gap is most noticeable in the highest-priced works, often referred to as blue-chip art. For example, the highest price ever paid for a work at auction is $450 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. The comparable record for a female artist is less than 10% of that value, $44.4 million for Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1”. Since women didn’t have as many opportunities to produce art in da Vinci’s day, this may not be a valid comparison.
In the present, the record prices achieved for works by living artists show that little has changed. The highest price for a work by a living artist is $91 million for Jeff Koons’ Rabbit. Jenny Saville’s “Propped” holds the record for a living artist to earn $12.4 million. Although a large sum, it is only 14% of the dollar amount raised for Koons’ work.
And the gender gap doesn’t just apply to multimillion-dollar sales. Using a sample of 1.9 million auction transactions from 1970 to 2016 for 69,189 individual artists, researchers found that works by female artists sell for a whopping 42% less than works by male artists.
Some equally staggering statistics show the breadth of the gender gap in the art world:
- An analysis of 18 major US art museums found that their collections are 87% male and 85% white.
- When men sign an artwork, it increases in value compared to an unsigned painting. But when a woman signs an artwork, it loses value.
- A best-selling art book, often used as a student textbook, Gombrich’s The Story of Art, mentions only one artist in its 688 pages, according to Mary Ann Sieghart, presenter of a BBC documentary on the gender gap in art.
- Even in the newest medium, NFTs, there is a huge gender gap. Only 5% of NFT revenue goes to female artists.
Are male artists more talented than female artists?
With such a dramatic gender gap in art appreciation, some may wonder if male artists produce more engaging work than female artists. Researchers have concluded that gender differences in art are not responsible for the gender differences in art prices.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers presented study participants with a computer-generated artwork and asked them to rate how much they liked the painting. Half of the participants saw a female artist’s name listed under the work, the other half a male name. In both cases the painting was the same, computer-generated painting. Participants who were interested in art and visited museums gave higher ratings when a male artist was performed. This result clearly shows that the preference for male artworks is a function of gender bias and not the difference in talent between males and females.
In another study, researchers showed participants works painted by men and women and asked them to guess the artist’s gender. Participants guessed correctly about 50% of the time, or what you would expect from random guessing. In other words, the participants could not tell which pictures were painted by men and which by women, suggesting that works by men do not differ significantly from those by women.
Research into gender and artwork revealed some differences between paintings by men and women. The most striking of these differences was that women were less likely to paint cattle than men. But these differences did not explain gender differences in art appreciation.
The fact that male collectors still dominate the traditional art market can also contribute to the preference for male artists. Researchers have found that men and women use different criteria when evaluating art. When making purchasing decisions, men tend to pay more attention to the artist and their background, while women pay more attention to the artwork. Male collectors’ emphasis on the artist’s potential can make it difficult for underrepresented artists to break into the art world.
Increasing interest in female artists
Despite the prejudice against women artists, there is a growing interest in women’s acquisition of art and prices for works by women artists are beginning to reflect this trend.
According to a BBC documentary, secondary market prices for work by women artists are increasing 29% faster than prices for art by men (despite starting from a lower base). In addition, the annual Art Basel and UBS survey of wealthy art collectors has noted a steady increase in the representation of women artists in collections in recent years. Female artists now make up 40% of these collections, up from 39% in 2020, 37% in 2019 and 33% in 2018.
Nuria Madrenas, the founder of Tacit, an online gallery and art consultancy featuring only female artists, has also noticed a growing interest in diversity. Madrenas says: “I’ve seen a growing interest from people in having their collections represented across the board. Not only by integrating female artists, but also artists of color in the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve had specific requests from clients for this equal representation when we’re curating work for their spaces.”
Madrenas is also optimistic that younger generations will help level the playing field for underrepresented artists. According to a recent report, an estimated $15.5 trillion in assets will be passed to the next generation by 2030, often referred to as the “Great Wealth Transfer.” According to Madrenas, future generations of art collectors are unlikely to spend that money on the same pieces as their parents did. She says: “We’ve seen tastes in art shift from the Boomer generation to Gen X and Millennials. Millennials want to collect from their peers. They want to collect from up-and-coming artists. They’re not necessarily all that interested in blue chip art because of the differences within this space. And they want a collection that’s more diverse.”
For the time being, works by women artists seem to be a promising investment. They are available at a reduced price and appreciate in value faster than men’s art. It’s unclear if this trend is related to collectors seizing the opportunity for higher returns, or if they’re really starting to appreciate women’s work — in any case, it should create more opportunities for women artists.
#billion #gender #gap #art Source