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Topics in Art

Women in Art

A hot topic in any group of professionals is sex. Art is no different. No, not discussing it, or having it, or even painting it, but sexual statistics. Bet you were wondering where I was going with that opening line, right? What we're talking about here is ratios--the number of males as compared to females in a given profession and their relative influence. Since the 1970s, women have taken their seats next to men at a gradually increasing rate to the point that in many professions they are approaching parity (medicine and law for instance). In others their numbers are already on a par with men (entertainment, tourism, and some business professions, to name but a few). At the same time, in a growing number of areas, women either have traditionally outnumbered men or have recently done so. These include education, food service, health care, and the fine arts, among others. Statistics are scarce but indications are this is the case also in the fine art of painting.

If the newest editions of art history/appreciation texts are any indication, the female presence amongst present-day painting artists makes their numbers at least equal to those of men. However, despite the fact that women are included amongst the pages of these hundred-dollar tomes to a greater degree than ever before, two factors come into play with regard to women in the arts. First of all, until this century, there was probably no more than one working female artist for every nine males. During the twentieth century this percentage has probably improved to the point there may well be about six female artists now for every 4 males. This is kind of an unscientific calculation based upon the ratio of male to female Web site owners. I realise this little (two-hour) survey I did a few months ago when this same question came up may be biased in favour of independent artists. Thus the results may be skewed slightly in favour of the female sex because logic would suggest that the males in our profession might well be employed full-time by various art firms in greater numbers than females and thus have little or no need for a Web site. In any case I'd be interested in any statistics regarding this aspect of the situation.

However, aside from sheer numbers, and all-too-common sexual biases in the past, another factor also applies with regard to women in art history. No doubt because few women in the past sought out a formal college education in the fine arts, many of them had only limited formal training, or none at all (being self taught). Therefore, until recently they had a difficult time competing with their male counterparts. And because of this, even in cases where it appears writers and publishers of texts have gone out of their way to seek out past female contributions to the arts, they find it difficult compare them qualitatively with those of men. So, they side-step the problem and choose instead to devote an individual chapter to women, in effect segregating them and also elevating them because of their sex. The fact that they find it necessary to present women in the arts in this manner is, in itself, a sexual bias and ironically, only serves to underline the relative unimportance of the so-called "gentler sex" especially in pre-twentieth century art history. Hopefully, once art now becomes art then, this practice will become less prevalent.

contributed by Lane, Jim


22 July 1999
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