Sunday, September 25, 2016

Taking the Measures of Sexism in the Arts

I told my English professor that I learned Art History in high school and he asked me what I knew about Louise Bourgeois. I had never heard of her, in fact, I almost exclusively learned about Euro-American and French men in art, literature, and music; the Western Canon is entirely based on the male perspective. Once I questioned why that was, that’s when I learned about systematic oppression of females, and ultimately, feminism

Louise Jos├ęphine Bourgeois
Despite encouraging signs that women are being more represented in the arts, there are still major systemic problems. Don’t get me wrong: women artists are far more recognized for their work today than they were 45 years ago. However, women have been historically denied in the arts and are still inferior in the art world. The institutional power structures actually exist today and make it quite hard for women to achieve artistic excellence on the same footing as men. 

The more closely you consider world art statistics, the more obvious it becomes that decades of post-colonialism, anti-racist, feminist, and queer activism stem from white, American, heterosexual, upper-middle class men. Sexism has been active since the founding of our fathers, and it still goes unrecognized in the culture of art. 

“The men like to put me down as the best women painter. I think I’m one of the best painters,” Georgie O’Keeffe said. 

“I’ve always been terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

 Sculpture by Bourgeois in the Domestic Incidents
group exhibit at London's Tate Modern Turbine
Hall, 2006. 


Of all the exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in 2007, 29 percent went to females. Statistics have improved though. In 2000, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City dedicated zero shows by women. Discrimination against women in the arts has become most present in gallery representations and museum exhibitions. In 2014, the well-known Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) had 80 percent male exhibitions. So did New York’s classic Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). 

But the above statistics are in the United States alone. In France and Germany, only 16 percent of female artists were represented in museum exhibitions in 2007. In the United Kingdom, only 22 percent of exhibitions were dedicated to female artists over the course of seven years, according to ArtNews. The facts are imbalanced and the ratio of male-to-female artists in exhibitions is unacceptable. 


Gallery statistics show that only 10 to 30 percent of women artists are in galleries, according to ArtNews. Women painters, drawers, and creators are excluded from galleries and put down because of their gender. 

“I’ve always wondered, like, what is so masculine about abstraction? How did men get the ownership over this?” said Cecily Brown in ArtNet News. 

In the Press

In our fast-paced, technology-centered world, women still get less coverage than men in publications, advertisements, and other periodicals. Men are more likely to be on the cover of art magazines than women. For instance, in Artforum, a female artist was only featured on the cover once in 2014. In the magazine’s “Best Of” 2014 issue, just roughly 32 percent of women artists were featured out of 95 slots. 

But art publications aren’t the only periodicals that misrepresent women and emphasize men artists. Male musicians get more radio time than female musicians. Music Machinery published an article on “Gender Specific Listening” and VoiceBunny published a study, “Should You Go With a Male or Female Voice Over?” which both focus on how consumer’s respond to male voices in advertisements versus female voices. 

Males directed 96 percent of the top movies over the past 13 years, according to Glamour Magazine. In the 2014 edition of ArtCompass, 83 of the 100 “Great Artists” were male… that’s 83 percent! Why are all the “great artists” men? 

How to Improve the Facts

The world needs to be more fearless and consistently outspoken when it comes to art inequality, feminism, and women in the arts. If people cannot recognize the truth or accept the fact that women are misrepresented in the art world, then the problem will forever exist. Drawing on the history of feminism and analyzing artist statistics can make you more aware on the growing concerns of sexism. 

-------------  Article by  Gabby Catalano ------------- 

Gabby Catalano is a San Diego web writer, blogger, and social media specialist. My writing focuses are non-fiction, journalism, and reporting