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Gender Bias in Art

  • May 22, 2014 1:19 PM EDT

    I have often been interested in this topic, for obvious reasons. I note that female authors often avoid using their first name to be taken more seriously and I do see some artists doing this. There is no doubt that gender bias is there. I remember back in the 80's a demonstration at OCA because there were so few female teachers and most of the students for many years had been female. I dont think it has changed in all the time since. 

    I also noticed at the plein air convention that most of the instructors and demonstraters were male and of course historically some of the biggest known groups  ( group of seven , french impressionist, etc ) have been all male despite the fact that were associated with female artists who were not allowed full membership in these groups

    I sometimes seek out books on female artist and time and time again, I find beautiful work that is not nearly as well known as that of male artists. We are inundated with prints of monet and thompson. 

    I attach a blog also on this topic here:

    http://susanpitcairn.com/blog/20312/recognizing-and-transcending-gender-biases-in-art

    This lady has looked into this more thoroughly than I and has found a large price gap in male vs female art and also has been turned away from applying to a gallery that encouraged a male artist to apply while she was on the way out the door.. From the article it looks like neither artist had shown their work so it wasnt due to that. 

    I wondered how the other artists in this group, male and female, had experienced this. Please post your thoughts and  more importantly your relevant experiences. 

    • 289 posts
    May 23, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

    From personal observation, 9 out of 10 students at out art retreats are women, and the same ratio holds for all the classes and workshops we have attended. Whereas, only around 3 out of ten instructors have been women. And the most sought after instructors have always been men. Their workshops get sold out first.

    I also agree with Susan Pitcairn that women artists are way more likely to be "paper-based" artists. Wastercolour, pastel, etc. and these media don't command the respect nor cash value that oil or even acrylic hold.

    As in almost all aspects of life, women have to work harder than men to achieve a fraction of what men accrue. This is not due to greater innate talent, but to cultural bias honed since the beginning of agriculture and "civilization".

    One minor example of unconscious gender bias. Think back to all the representations you have ever seen of the pre-historic artists who painted the walls of caves. Every representation shows men doing the painting. If anything, it's more likely the women, who were the food gatherers and keepers of the hearth and thereby in proximity to the caves for a greater part of the time, who did the art. Not the males who were away for great lengths of time hunting.

    As for relevant experience, Helen and I have had our work accepted in two galleries. In both cases, although Helen is a far better painter than I am, the gallery chose more of my paintings than they did of Helen's. I have no way to prove that this was the result of gender bias (Both gallery owners were women.), yet the discrepancy was extreme and couldn't be explained away by the look of the work.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • June 3, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

    This is something strange that happened in belleville. two of the male  volunteers pulled up in a car where rick and I were painting. They proceeded to shake rick's hand and have a really long conversation with him and ignored me completely. After a while, a female volunteer, came up on a bike and spoke to me and offered me water and then she spoke to Rick as well. Just  before they left one of the two men, came quickly by and asked if I needed to go to the washroom but very perfuntorily and no hand shaking and no introductions or anything. They then left without the other man even giving me so much as a wave. 

    I wondered if we had been two men painting if I would have been treated the same way. 

  • June 3, 2014 10:20 PM EDT

    You know I hear that all the time , and something about the way it is said bothers me,- sort of condescending but I wonder if male painters get told they have a nice "hobby" too. Maybe one could comment. 

    • 289 posts
    June 4, 2014 12:03 AM EDT

    I've received both kinds of comments. Men and women have assumed it is a hobby, and just as many have assumed I make my living doing it.

    • 51 posts
    June 4, 2014 6:03 PM EDT

    This is an interesting topic and I agree that historically there has been a huge gap but it is slowly (too slowly) closing.  

    I am speaking as a male but I am a male married to a feminist.  My two favourite instructors are Katherine McDonald for portraits and Catherine Gibbon for plein air landscapes.  When I am signing up for a workshop the gender of the instructor is never an isssue.  I paint with three different plein air groups and in all three cases at least three quarters of the artists are female and in all cases the most talented and most professional artists are female.  I am curating a show that opens next month at the Dundas Museum and Archives.  Of fourteen artists only six are male.

    I know there are biases but we have to be careful that we aren't occasionally tilting with windmills.  The volunteers could just be gender shy and the gallery may just like the male artist and/or their work.  

    I do have to admit that Dundas is a special place and I am probably a special case.

  • June 10, 2014 2:46 PM EDT

    John, if you read the article you will see they encouraged the male artist to apply and discouraged the female without actually seeing either of their work. also in the article they discuss people judging music created by men and women and found there was a difference in how they were judged if the judges knew the gender.  The link to the article is in my first note at the top.  I am glad you are seeing more female instuctors.  

    In schooIs in general, I  see more female teachers in the younger grades than in university and in art there are, I think lots of female teachers that teach art to beginners but fewer in the more prestigious jobs- the ones at colleges or that pay better. More of the Master Classes are taught by males.

    I did not feel any gender bias in the way I was treated at the Finger Lakes Plein air event. I only noticed it a couple of times in Belleville. 

     In addition to the first incident, the next day, the same lady on a bike came up to me painting and was very helpful and friendly. 

    Shortly after I heard someone shouting at me. I generally ignore this sort of thing when I am painting but they were persistent so I turned around and there was a male volunteer in a car, stopped on a quiet side street, who couldnt be bothered to get out and speak normally to me. He had been shouting " hey , hey you ".  I think it may have been the same guy who parked and spoke to Rick actually but I cant be sure. Anyway, when he got my attention, he shouted something like " do you need water" and when I said no  thankyou he sped off without further comment.  I would have thought maybe it was just a very rude person instead of gender bias, if I hadnt seen how differently rick was treated.  

    • 31 posts
    June 11, 2014 2:25 PM EDT

    I certainly agree there may be gender bias in the visual arts, but what about the arts in general?   How come with dance, literature and music it appears gender bias is arguably less than with visual art?   I.e.   the leading, successful authors are women including Atwood, Sheilds and Alice Munro who was the 1st Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013.  In music two of the top three earners are women (the highest is Madonna).  If you really want to see bias that just so happens to be gender neutral bias, ask any photographer how difficult it is to sell their work.   My point is that (outside of encounters with impolite rubes) is this problem really gender based bias; a real prejudice; or is it a form of discernment; a perception?

    Perception being; Picasso often stated that people did not buy a painting by Picasso, they bought a Picasso.   Discernment;… he also said “I can s_it” on a blank canvas and people would buy it precisely because it was by Picasso”.    A bit crude perhaps but a telling, accurate comment on perception, discernment and the state of the visual art market.   Gender has had nothing to do with artists who have created and the discerning collectors have been buying artworks such as this for decades.   Once such can of it from avant-guard artist Piero Manzoni sold at Sotheby’s for 124,00 euros in 2007.    (You can’t make this stuff up,  google it…..)

    When we discuss gender bias here are we being polite or do you mean gender inequality, oppression and male domination of visual arts?  If not, then (at the risk of getting pilloried) I suggest gender bias is not insidious as it is unconscious; and perception, either right or wrong is understandable, even permissible as it should be free of subjective correct behaviour.  Simply stated if you agree that the root cause is perception then you have to accept that that men and women do not differ significantly on the vast majority of personality and behavioural dimensions and that no one is going to dislike, not buy a painting by a woman; or buy one just because its by a man.

    Either way: It is what it is.  The reality be it gender, religion, race, politics etc, the belief we can somehow enable or create gender bias-free art in many ways only serves to further ingrain inequality and likely will have the reverse effect.   

    • 289 posts
    June 11, 2014 3:19 PM EDT

    I think there is more than one level operating here.

    On the one hand, you have many great female painters in various styles. Artists like Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe, Artemisia Gentileschi, Maud Lewis and Emily Carr. Nowadays I don't think anyone looks at their work and thinks, "that's a nice painting, for a woman".  I think appreciators of art simply look at their work and say to themselves, "that's great art".

    I was involved in the Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival this past week. There were around 45 American artists participating, most of them professionals. The judge was Lori Putnam. When she did a demo, they hung off her every word. The respect I sensed amongst the artists for her was palpable. No gender bias there.

    On the other hand, amongst the regular public, I've noticed that they assume that the women painters are doing this as a nice hobby. "It must be so nice to spend your time painting." There's an assumption that there's a hubby somewhere supporting the woman's effort. Whereas, the assumption that people have when they talk to me is that this is how I make my living.

    There is also a large number of the public who show no gender bias, because they think we're all, male and female, just whiling away our time in an idle hobby. It's all about the "fun", "relaxation" and "getting away from real life".

    I suspect that in any group of people, you have a mix of the above types. Some respect you, irrespective of your gender. Some have a gender bias in which women are  simply having a good time. And with some, we're all simply indulging ourselves and they wish they could join us in our pleasant pastime.

    There are still too many of the middle group, and the last group, and the impact it has on female painters cannot be good. However, it is what it is. We are not going to be able to change attitudes, other than by painting more and exposing more of the public to the fact that there are great painters out there, both male and female and that they should be supported from the pocketbook as well as verbally.

  • June 11, 2014 4:02 PM EDT

    Well first of all, there clearly is bias in other art fields. JK Rowling. hid her gender until her success and you would be surprised how many female authors are told to do this by publishers. Also the study  in the article at the top, showed that when they could hear high heels clicking they marked down musicians that were female and did not if they could not distinguish gender. 

    The are problems with ignoring gender bias and just saying. " oh well, that's how it is."  Many people thought decades ago that as women entered the marketplace that gradually they would work their way up the ladder until there were equal amounts of both genders at all levels of work. This has never happened. Only 5% of CEO's are women. There are many theories for this " men feel more comfortable working with men. men socialize in mostly male clubs or sports so exclude women, etc , etc" but whatever the reason is , it is pretty clear that things will not just gradually change for the fairer on their own.  Also, interestingly, as women get more  and more education they perceived the education system as less enjoyable and less inclusive and welcoming to them. So at the doctorate level, more women felt excluded than say at high school, or even first year college.

    I also was at Finger Lakes and didnt see any Gender Bias there and yes the judge was a woman and a very good artist and the event was run by Pat , a gallery owner and woman. 

    As far as the art itself, gender may influence the kind of art you make and who you are on many levels does and should really. 

    It is not like I am expecting " something to be done about this" right now but I think that we need to be aware of this and maybe post on this thread if people see a positive or negative example of gender issues in art. Just for awareness really. The time was when people thought racism was 'just the way life is"  or " or " it is what it is " as Doug says and now we dont accept that. Personally I dont think that genderism should be accepted as status quo any more than racism. The first step to anything actually changing is that people become more aware of it. I noticed in the 80's that the universities in Vancouver were much more aware of gender issues than in Ontario, and as a result of that the gender bias, in many ways, was much less pronounced there than in Ontario. The experience at the university was more equitable. 

    Here is an example on how awareness can make a difference. Two years ago I was at the plein air convention. That year they were pairing lecturers of in twos. In 2-3 of the cases where they paired a man and a woman, the man kept interrupting the woman, and often not to teach but to say some kind of smart alec remark. It was very annoying as I really wanted to hear what they had to say and had paid a lot to be there.  Incidentally,  there are  psychology studies showing men do tend to interrupt woman significantly more frequently than the other way around. So when it came time to do the feed back I mentioned this problem and asked if they were doing 2 at a time, could they do 2 women or 2 men. This year they seemed to do that. The difference was incredible. Much less interrupting with both the 2 women groups and the 2 men groups and you could focus on really listening and learning.  A small change made a huge difference.  So , being aware isnt about mindless griping. It is about being aware of problems and then looking for effective solutions. 

    • 289 posts
    June 11, 2014 4:47 PM EDT

    Jennifer, when I said, "It is what it is", I was not suggesting you condone it, or even accept it. Just the opposite.

    Because gender bias is out there, and there is little individuals can do, in a practical manner, to change general attitudes, then the thing to do is work with it. Your suggestion of pairing women with women and men with men in the lectures is an example of working the system. You acknowledge that there is the possibility of a bias and you make a change so that the bias that is there is neutralized. It is what it is, so you work with it.

    Advice for organizations, like the Belleville organizers, if a volunteer exhibits gender bias, you don't put that person in charge of anything where a bias produces a negative impact. It is what it is. Work with it.

    By doing these things, attitudes do change. Dialogue changes things. While attitudes might not seem vary changed to you, they are vastly different from when i grew up in the 1950s. The world that I see is night and day from that world. While there are still men (and women) who think a woman's role is to be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen, these types stand out as throwbacks. They are noticeable because they are so out of sync with society in general. There's lots of room to grow, but change does happen

  • June 12, 2014 12:17 AM EDT

    Keith, I dont think you condone or accept this.As you know , you and I have talked about this and you have lots of thoughtful insights. neither do I want the male members of the group to feel attacked by this conversation. Just encouragement for people to think about it and be aware of how it affects a lot of artists. And when you do see it , call a spade a spade. 

    Keith Thirgood said:

    Jennifer, when I said, "It is what it is", I was not suggesting you condone it, or even accept it. Just the opposite.

    Because gender bias is out there, and there is little individuals can do, in a practical manner, to change general attitudes, then the thing to do is work with it. Your suggestion of pairing women with women and men with men in the lectures is an example of working the system. You acknowledge that there is the possibility of a bias and you make a change so that the bias that is there is neutralized. It is what it is, so you work with it.

    Advice for organizations, like the Belleville organizers, if a volunteer exhibits gender bias, you don't put that person in charge of anything where a bias produces a negative impact. It is what it is. Work with it.

    By doing these things, attitudes do change. Dialogue changes things. While attitudes might not seem vary changed to you, they are vastly different from when i grew up in the 1950s. The world that I see is night and day from that world. While there are still men (and women) who think a woman's role is to be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen, these types stand out as throwbacks. They are noticeable because they are so out of sync with society in general. There's lots of room to grow, but change does happen

    • 51 posts
    June 12, 2014 9:03 AM EDT

    Gender bias is real and is a problem and not just in the arts.  It is systemic because males and females are raised very differently in our society.  Girls play with girls and boys play with boys and then as adults we are suddenly expected to live and work with each other in peace and understanding.

    I like to think that I am involved in one of the solutions.  I have been a Scout leader for over twenty years and feel that going co-ed was one of the best moves Scouting has made.  Children, both male and female, starting at a young age grow up together doing the same activities.  It is remarkable to see how well they get along and work together if they stay in Scouting until their late teens.  They learn to work as teams drawing on each others strengths based on skill sets and not gender. 

    Racism didn't start to diminish until children started mixing in schools and the solution to gender bias will start with our children.

    I am off to look for examples of and solutions to age bias.

  • June 21, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

    I am posting this photo of me painting in canandaigua, not because it is a good photo of me. I look pretty messy but because it reminded me of a female version of our opas logo

  • December 5, 2014 3:56 PM EST

    ok, I am not saying anyone in the group did anything wrong because they didnt but I noticed the following. 

    I dont have stats on the people entering our 2014 yearly show so I am not sure what the ratio was of entered artists but :

    71% of the awards this year went to women but only 

    11% of sales were of female artist's work. (only one piece)

    Again , nothing that anyone in our group did  wrong but it certainly looks like it is much harder for women to sell art. It will be interesting to follow these stats for other shows. 

  • December 5, 2014 4:34 PM EST

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/8971-women-artists-still-face-discrimination

    also found this interesting article at the link above, indicating female artist earn 10-30 % on the dollar for what male artists earn. 

    and this project , where they are tallying the gender gap in gallery representation. most galleries not doing so well but a small amount were more equitable.

    /http://gallerytally.tumblr.com/

    Very frustrating situation.