mothers, sons and daughters on Mothers Day – feminism is still needed, especially in the arts

For mothers day I want to raise awareness of the continuing need for feminism, especially in the art sector.  All women and men, have a responsibility to ensure that all people are treated as equals. Feminism is  not just about mothers and daughters.

So I am asking my son and daughter to watch the film ‘!women art revolution’ by Lynn Hershman-Leeson with their partners, as their mother’s day gift to me. (I will test them later!)

As mothers, we need to ensure both our sons and daughters are aware of the continuing inequality in the workplace for women. Watching  ‘!women art revolution’ by Lynn Hershman-Leeson, released in 2010, motivated me to write this,  so my focus here is on the art sector. Have you seen it? (If not you should). I highly recommend it, especially for students and young people who think their mums and grans won the war on sexism in the 1960’s. It’s not over yet. You can see the film on Mubi, a brilliant new online film service, cheap and great films. Worth a look.

Through intimate interviews, art, and rarely seen archival film and video footage, !Women Art Revolution reveals how the Feminist Art Movement fused free speech and politics into an art that radically transformed the art and culture of our times.

I recall reading ‘Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology’ by Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock when I was a student. I was shocked. The narrative of the film is less about old mistresses and more about the 20th Century. But what about now?

‘!women art revolution’ shares a huge legacy that must not be forgotten. I was mostly affected by the statistics, which sent me off to find a few figures to share to see whether or not things have improved.

So, from the film, some information from the Guerilla Girls and others in the film:

  •       The Guggenheim, Metropolitan and the Whitney were showing 0 women, and the Modern 1
  •       Women in America earn only 2/3 of what men do
  •       Women artists earn only 1/3 of what men artists do
  •       They wrote a list of 150 women artists whose work could be bought as a collection for the same value as ONE artwork by a male artist.
  •       Marcia Tucker was employed by the Whitney as a curator – she was the first woman curator they had hired since Gloria Vanderbilt. At the interview she was asked many personal questions about being a woman. At the same time a male curator was appointed, he was offered $2,000 more than her. She complained and was given the same.

This made me want to catch up and see how things may have changed. I wonder have they changed much at all? So I foraged about online and came up with some more current stats about women in the arts. Here are few of my findings:

In the White Review – ‘Redressing The Balance: Women In The Art World’, by Louisa Elderton:

………statistical data does reveal that of the top 100 auction performances in 2012, none was for a work by a female artist.

Furthermore, of the 3441 artists represented across the 135 commercial galleries at the 2012 Frieze Art Fair, 27.5 per cent were women, with only 3.7 per cent of the galleries having equal gender representation. The market certainly suggests that male-dominated power structures persist. How might this reflect the attitudes and beliefs within today’s society regarding the true ‘value’ and legitimacy of work by women artists?

And in the Guardian, by Kira Cochrane, in 2013:

Women in art: why are all the ‘great’ artists men?An audit of the art world shows that every artist in the top 100 auction sales last year was a man, and just 8% of public art in central London was created by women.

Kira shares some interesting data too. This is from Feminista 2010:

83% of the artists in Tate Modern were men, along with 70% of those in the Saatchi Gallery.

And that:

The National Gallery in London, for instance, contains more than 2,300 works; an information request made by the women’s activist Tim Symonds at the start of 2011 revealed that only 11 of the artists in that enormous collection are women

There’s a lot more, and if you want some more figures (which let’s face it you may find depressing) there are more on the Guardian datablog, London Art Audit, as well as a great infographic.

If you feel motivated to compare with other countries and gain an international perspective, check out statistics about women artists in the art world see ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics!’

So what can we do? I’ve always been averse to women-only shows and events. And positive discrimination risks weakening curatorial selection. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was struck by a comment Claire Hodgson recently made – that for women to be equal to men we need to get them on board, because they are the gatekeepers. It still galls me to acknowledge that this is a logical approach, as used by the suffragettes. But if that is true, then we need to make sure it is on every agenda at every meeting we attend. We need to keep it in mind when selecting artists for commissions. With socially engaged practice becoming increasingly common there is the potential to begin those dialogues with communities, away from the boardroom.

Maybe a set of flash cards would help – held up, like a green card in a football game? Simple question: “Are we treating everyone as equals?” I’m sure the police could use them  too, in the light of the appalling headlines about the report on rape and domestic violence.

We need to ensure the questions are asked, constantly. If we believe inequality is being used, challenge it.

And we need to encourage young people to do the same – male and female – it’s a human right for all.







Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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