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3 Revealing Stats about Women in Art (And How To Make It Better)

3 Revealing Stats about Women in Art (And How To Make It Better)

October is National Women's Small Business Month in the U.S., and my last post took advantage of the occasion by talking about why having women-owned businesses is important, as well as providing a number of resources for women entrepreneurs.

Real Abstract Design is a woman-owned small business, but I like to think that we provide more than just products to be bought. Our mission, after all, is to surround you and your loved ones with beauty and style, by providing you with edgy art that transforms everyday products and spaces.

So I want to use this post to focus on the art side of the business, i.e., the business of art. I want to celebrate women artists while recognizing the challenges we can sometimes face in getting our work recognized. And I want to provide both inspiration and resources for women artists – and anyone who loves art!

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner

You've likely heard of Jackson Pollock, an abstract artist famous for his "drip" paintings in the middle of last century. But I'm guessing you haven't heard of his wife, Lee Krasner. She was also an abstract artist, already well established when they met. By all accounts she was an enormous influence on Pollock at the peak of his career, in addition to creating her own ground-breaking work. She became the one artistic judge he trusted.¹ So how did her husband become a pop culture icon, while she's been relegated by that same culture to a footnote of his career?

Here's an anecdote that is, perhaps, a bit revealing. Krasner studied under the painter Hans Hofmann, and she recounts that "one day, when he came in and looked at the canvas I was working on, he said, 'This is so good. You would not know it was done by a woman.' Meaning, you know, like, the highest compliment he could pay me. ... So that thing always stays there. You know? Always."²

Fast-forward to this century, and another abstract artist, Cecily Brown, laments our lack of progress: "I've always wondered, like, what is so masculine about abstraction? How did men get ownership over this?"³

I've always wondered, like, what is so masculine about abstraction? How did men get ownership over this? (Cecily Brown, via National Museum of Women in the Arts)

Women Artist Exhibitions by the Numbers

Unfortunately, the gender imbalance in art isn't just anecdotal – there are hard numbers behind it. At 31 prominent U.S. museums, between 2008 and 2020, only 11% of acquisitions and 15% of exhibitions were by female artists.⁴

And while it's tempting to hope that a lot of that is skewed by the past, that contemporary art exhibits are more balanced ... that hope just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. For example, only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women.⁵

Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are female. (Statistics from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, 2011, via Guerrilla Girls)

"The number of works by women ... peaked a decade ago," explains Artnet News, "even as museums signal publicly that they are ... working to expand the canon." The idea that "once-marginalized artists [are] being granted more equitable representation within art institutions ... is a myth."⁶

Infographic depicting representation in collections of major U.S. art museums (Source: Topaz et al., Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums, 2019, via National Museum of Women in the Arts)

How To Make It Better? Create, and Advocate!

So what's the silver lining? There is a silver lining, right? Of course, there is. Artists like me. Websites like this, that showcase and sell art created by women. I'm part of a community that transcends geography and history, style and medium. So, reaching out to aspiring women artists everywhere, regardless of your experience or perception of your abilities, please join us! I've been where you are. And, reaching out to anyone who's ever been moved by art, please support us! (We've all been where you are.)

Here's a quick list of websites and organizations that provide resources or inspiration for working women artists. As with the resources in my last post, it is by no means exhaustive. If you've got something we didn't include, please let us know.

  • National Museum of Women in the Arts is "more than an art museum. Through our work, we aim to right the balance for women artists and improve gender inequity in the art world. Learn more about our advocacy work and how you can take action."
  • Guerrilla Girls are "anonymous artist activists who use disruptive headlines, outrageous visuals and killer statistics to expose gender and ethnic bias and corruption in art, film, politics and pop culture. ... We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair."
  • Renée Phillips is a self-proclaimed "artrepreneur coach," providing a "continuous stream of articles on practical art business advice and sparks of inspiration," which are free to read on her website. "One of my priorities," she explains, "is to advance the status of women artists, to help them achieve the success that they deserve." She provides a number of resources for women artists, including here, here, and here.
  • Artists Network is a "community of creatives like you, who strive to ... share your passions in ways both big and small." Their mission is to "empower artists with the techniques, knowledge, ideas, and inspirations that help ignite their visions and bring them to life." They've put together a list of ten women artists "whose talents and pioneering spirits continue to inspire and influence today."
  • Unbound Visual Arts is focused on the democratization of art, creating spaces for local artists to showcase their work in communities that are underserved by traditional means of exhibition. "We chose 'unbound' as our name to remind ourselves that we have no boundaries or limits when it comes to the contemporary visual art that we support and endorse." (Full disclosure: I'm a founding member.)

Abstract Art Gift Shop: Practical Products, Edgy Designs

As I mentioned in a previous post, nothing pleases me more than sharing my appreciation of abstract art with you. Be sure to check out the full range of products we have available: phone cases, laptop sleeves, and mousepads (both gaming and traditional). Shoulder bags and tote bags. Mugs and notebooks. And, of course, our canvas prints. See what designs strike you, which designs move you, and find that design that truly expresses your personality!

Our practical products are available in a number of edgy abstract designs, such as Aqua Sunrise.   Our practical products are available in a number of edgy abstract designs, such as Lavender Cosmos.   Our practical products are available in a number of edgy abstract designs, such as Neon Aquatic Odyssey.

Visit Our Abstract Art Gift Shop

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