Written by Amanda Trickett

Arts

Painting a picture of gender bias

A new report is calling out gender inequality in the art world and inviting the world’s institutions to make a pledge for change. New York artist Jennifer Dalton tells Amanda Trickett about her experience, and how she’s kicking back by making gender bias visible.

Jennifer Dalton photo by Micah Schmidt.

The gender pay gap. Ah yes, that: a constant problem, endless source of frustration and an issue across all industries.

Here’s an interesting one though: a new report by Artfinder, an online art market place that places trading directly into the hands of artists, has found women are outselling their male counterparts, but valuing their work at less.

Is the gender pay gap in the art market so deeply ingrained that even when women get the chance to set their prices themselves they value their work at a lower price?

Artfinder reports that gender inequality in the art world is a huge issue. From less exhibiting space – between 2007 and 2014, Tate Modern has granted female artists solo exhibitions only 25 per cent of the time – to works selling for far less at auction, women are woefully underrepresented.

This is where Artfinder’s pledge comes in: a call out to the world’s institutions, galleries and artists to make a commitment to gathering data and making the move towards gender equality.

To accompany the report, New York artist Jennifer Dalton has been commissioned to create a series of prints using data gathered from 9,000 artists from all over the world, who sell directly through the site. We asked her more about her own experience and the work she’s creating in response to the findings.

To what extent do you agree with Artfinder’s statement about gender inequality?

Rather than gender inequality being something that people think can never change, I see it as something that people think is changing automatically. But having been around since the 1990s, I haven’t seen positive changes in the statistics in the past 20 or 25 years. It’s going to take a more concerted effort, and it’s an effort that people don’t realise they have to make.

Can you pick out any instances where your gender has counted against you?

My gender is highlighted a lot. But I guess you could say I encourage that way of engaging with me by identifying as a feminist, and by making art with feminist subject matter.

“Everyone can think of a few superstar women artists who’ve succeeded in this system, and I think because of those notable exceptions people tend to think things are more balanced than they are.”

In my experience, the obvious gender imbalance that we see in the art world tends to manifest through more subtle forces like implicit bias and networking advantages.

Since we’ve all been raised and educated within this culture and history of white and male supremacy, when we imagine a brilliant successful artist we have a certain visual archetype in our head. And of course male gender is even embedded in our word for the best work of art you can make, a ‘masterpiece.’ These biases shape which artworks and artists rise to the top of our system.

You’ve created work which mines data to reflect gender imbalances. Is this your way of kicking back, by making what’s hidden more visible?

Yes, it is absolutely that. If you don’t count things and look at data, your brain makes up the reality it assumes is there.

For my ongoing series Every Descriptive Word, I’ve looked at several years of ArtForum magazine’s annual ‘Best Of’ issue. I went through their critics’ picks one at a time and pulled out all the words they used to describe men and women artists in order of appearance.

A detail from Every Descriptive Word.

The list of words describing men artists’ work was almost 15 feet long, and the list of words describing women artists’ work ends about one fifth of the way down. That the disparity of attention for the shows would be quite so huge surprised me.

Everyone can think of a few superstar women artists who’ve succeeded in this system, and I think because of those notable exceptions people tend to think things are more balanced than they are. If we don’t look at the real numbers, our perception bias colours everything. We have to consciously intervene into that process.

What work are you creating from the findings?

I was excited to see that women actually outsell men on the Artfinder site, which is very different from the results in the larger art world. Since Artfinder is open to all, it raises the question of the role of traditional art-world gatekeepers such as galleries, museums and critics, in perpetuating gender imbalances. The drawings I’m making show these differences in painted charts and graphs which will be made into prints and offered for sale in an acrylic briefcase.

This ‘briefcase of women’ is a reference to 2012 US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remark that he was considering ‘binders full of women’ for cabinet posts.

What would you hope that Artfinder pledge achieves?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks and what the pledge could help with is people not recognising their own part in this. That ‘it will just change on its own’ mentality has to be challenged.

If people examine their own agency and assumptions, that could begin to make a difference. The fear of not having the best possible outcome shouldn’t stop us all from trying. Trying is valuable.

#ArtWorldSexism

@a_trickett

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Written by Amanda Trickett

Amanda Trickett is a writer, arts PR, toddler mum, tea- and sleep lover. Likely to be found clambering into PJs at the earliest opportunity, though has a distant memory of once being a night owl.