Sunday, December 2, 2012

Educating and exhibiting artists

The fact remains that twice as many female artists graduate from our art schools compared to male artists. 

Gender representation in a selection of 2011 Bachelor of Visual Art degree courses nationally
Data collected from 2011 graduation exhibition websites 
(Charles Darwin University not included as no data available)

Based on this fact you would expect to see twice the work exhibited in our public and commercial galleries and museums to be by female artists. CoUNTess has noted before how gender representation is reflected in the workplace of other female-dominated degree programs.  

Gender representation in exhibitions from a selection (one from each state) of CAOS contemporary art space galleries

Even if half of graduating female artists turned out to be unambitious or uninteresting, then you should still expect to see half of the work exhibited in our art spaces to be by female artists. Yet, it’s not like that. Instead, what is represented in most galleries is the reverse of what the graduate statistics lead us to expect.

Gender representation total in percentages of visual art graduates in 2011 and exhibiting artists in selected CAOS galleries (one selected from each state)

A third of artists exhibiting in CAOS galleries for example are women, yet women make up two thirds of art school graduates. That means that a female graduate has a much less chance of getting recognition and remuneration than a male graduate. 

CoUNTess numbers have consistently shown that women artists make up 60-65% of the artist population (the pool) yet get 33-40% of the pie, while male artists who make up 33-40% of the artist population get 60-65% of the pie.

Pie I have eaten / Pie I am yet to eat

Pie I have eaten / Pie I am yet to eat

For a few years now CoUNTess has been keeping tabs on gender representation in the Australian art world and sharing our findings via this blog. We are pleased that all our number crunching is adding up to something and coming to the attention of the media and institutions.  Renown feminist journalist Anne Summers new online publication Anne Summers Report featured a report on CoUNTess on page 11.

And in The Age Sunday Dec 2nd CoUNTess gets a significant reference in an article by Fiona Grubber “Recasting the old masters club” pointing out how women working in Australia’s visual art institutions far outnumber men, yet only a few are holding the top jobs and nor were credible women candidates touted as even being in the running for the recent directorial appointments at various state museums.  CoUNTess wonders why the art world is a place where the majority of administrative, curatorship and promotion positions at art institutions are filled by women (although as Grubber points out the top job is more often than not a man), but all the while exhibiting in a majority of male artists, CoUNTess believes, at the expense of their female colleagues?

There are a couple of points in Grubber's article of particular interest to CoUNTess which address the social and economic climate that women artists are working in. The first is in reference to Sydney gallerist Roslyn Oxley

she sees gender bias in the marketplace all the time. Collectors tend to prefer male artists' work, and among the gallery's stable of mid-career artists, the men's earning capacity is significantly greater”

This is interesting because it pinpoints the issue of collector bias as a site of important research for future attention in the posts of CoUNTess. Anyone who visits art fairs, commercial galleries and auction houses can take note how often the price point for women artists is significantly lower than for work by men.  

The second point of interest is her reference to a statistic from the Australia Council, showing the gender of working artists and how much they earn.

“Being an artist is also twice as tough for women. Australia Council statistics from 2008 (the most recent available) reveal that two thirds of visual artists are women but that women in the arts (there are no separate income figures for visual artists) earn on average 50 per cent less than men.”

One way to influence collector bias is to ensure that public funding of art institutions is shared more equitably. If publicly funded galleries collected and exhibited with female artists with equitable recognition, it would certainly raise these artists' profile and elevate a collectors confidence in buying work by female artists. CoUNTess believes our public galleries should also be taking an interest in collecting and exhibiting art that is representative of what is being produced not just art that is being speculated upon.