Posted by: madeleinesauter | February 21, 2020

Women in the Arts

“People in the art world want to think we are achieving parity more quickly than we are” (Sterling, 2007).

The National Museum of Women in the Arts continually highlights that just because there is a space for women, it does not mean that anything is equal. The NMWA located in Washington DC is one of the world’s only museums dedicated to providing a space solely for women through the arts. With its collections, exhibitions, programs, and online content, the NMWA provides agency for female artists, advocating for better representation of women artists and provides opportunities to view and exercise leadership, community engagement, and social change. The museum addresses the gender disparity in the presentation of art by providing a space for important women artists of the past and present.

The NMWA has collections of visual, performing, and literary arts. I believe the diversity in the collections is vital to the conversations around the disparity of representation in art, because not all forms of art are accessible to all types of women or people, thus creating an even further distinction between whose voice is heard and whose isn’t. For example, during the first wave of feminism, long prose regarding women’s rights were glorified while poetry was seen as a less desirable form of expression. At the time, the only women who had the time and resources to write prose were women who did not have to work. By disregarding poetry, the first wave of this movement lessened the impact and significance that could have been held by working women, lower class women, women of color, and other marginalized persons.

The National Museum for Women in the Arts addresses this in a myriad of ways. By providing a space for all types of art, the class and race divides that may exist between mediums is lessened. Additionally, the museum actively works to maintain a diverse body of art from a diverse pool of artists. Although having a space for women’s art is not a solution to the disparity in art and representation, it does allow more space to recognize the salience of various identities. I think this is super valuable in art, as so much of what is created comes from some component of an artist’s identities or experiences.

Additionally, the website for the NMWA features a great number of works, making access to the art more accessible for people across the world. Their social media presence also encourages online activism. For example, the NMWA instagram page had a campaign in which they would present a short bio on a female artist and ask the viewers if they could name five female artists. That campaign and others utilize hashtags to get others involved and provide a way for people to participate who may not normally have the means.

Visit the NMWA website


  1. Perusing the National Museum for Women in the Arts, there was a “Get the Facts” page I found. One of the most interesting stats were about education and the art market. In the US, about 70% of Bachelors of Fine arts and 65-75% Masters of Fine Arts are earned by women. Yet, less than 50% of working artists in the states are females. 65% of the UK’s undergraduates and postgraduates (each) in creative arts are women. But less than a third of artists represented in top galleries are women. It’s no wonder, then, that of the $200 billion spent on art in the past 11 years, only two percent of that money was spent on a female’s work ($4bil). The most expensive work sold by a woman at an auction was Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1: $44.4mil. The most expensive male artist’s work: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi which sold for $450.3mil. There is also a record for the most expensive work for the top living artists. Jenny Saville’s Propped sold for $12.4mil, being the most expensive work done by a living woman. The most expensive piece done by a male living artist? Jeff Koons’ Rabbit for $91.1mil.

    This disparity in display, work sold and therefore monetary value is shocking and quite embarrassing. Just as we read the statistics for the US being number one for women’s education, but 73rd in the world for women’s political empowerment. The numbers don’t match up – there must be something else playing into the gender disparity we see nowadays if education has overall become an equal playing field. I wonder if this comes down to something psychological which we’ve discussed in class being the underlying culprit propping up categories and generalizations that can hinder advancement.

  2. I had never thought much about the gender differences in art. I have always seen more female artists than male, but on a smaller scale. These included art teachers in elementary, middle, and high school, friends that went to college to major in fine arts, and how media displays artists in many movies and TV shows. I would honestly expect there to be more women in the art field, however this is not the case. I find this very interesting considering some of the social norms we are taught when we are younger is that girls color, and boys play with blocks, cars, etc. Drawing is considered to be something that is more “feminine” in our society. I was curious about this and I found an interesting article that discusses some of the history behind this gender discrepancy. When women began to come into the art field, they were thought to think better in two dimensions rather than three. This followed male encouragement for women to draw, paint, and weave. However, they were excluded from clay working, sculpture making, mixed media, photography and many other forms of art. This could be a potential reason for the differences seen in the field today. Those who are interested in art are mostly male who are used to seeing women completing art in two dimensions, when presented with something different, they introduce bias because it is rarely done. Another interesting bit of research from the article looked at symphony auditions. They found that when judges had blind auditions, women were 30% more likely to receive a spot in the symphony. This number increased even more when women were encouraged to take off their shoes, so that the clacking of heels could not be heard. I find this extremely interesting and worrisome. That subconsciously, judges would insert bias against women in this field. Even the clacking of shoes is enough to introduce bias into the decision. As we have talked about in almost every class period, we really require a societal shift in thought and the way that women are viewed in order for us to reach parity.

    Do you think that the history of art is a major reason for this difference between male and female artists? Or do you think there is something more at play for why we still see the discrepancy today?


    (It also includes some pretty terrifying graphs with the differences in prices of men’s and women’s pieces of artwork.)

  3. I have never really given the art field much thought as far as its representation of gender, but now that I think of it, I could name multiple well known male artists like da vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Warhol, to name a few, however I can only name one popular female artist and that is Georgia O’Keeffe. On the one hand this could just be my ignorance talking or it could be the evidence of the underrepresentation of women in the art field on a grander scale. Just as Dana said, on a small scale it appears as though the art field is largely female dominated as all of my art teachers throughout elementary, middle, and high school were female and when I took art classes in high school they were majority female. Having said that, I am interested in this gender bias that you mentioned because in my opinion art is such a gender irrelevant thing for the most part. Enjoying or not enjoying the art has nothing to do with the artists personality or how they conduct themselves or their leadership style. Rather you judge, or should judge art solely based on the final product. The statistics that Dana shared about the performing arts that women were 30% more likely to receive a spot in the symphony when the auditions were blind were honestly shocking, I had no idea that this bias in art existed. I would love to extend the investigation on these votes and make it possible to interview these voters/hirers and have them explain why they chose the male artist over the female artist and determine if they are aware of their gender bias or if it is a subconscious bias.

    On a more positive note, I love that the National Museum of Women in the Arts dedicated a space for solely women’s art as this gives female artists’ work the spotlight that it deserves and could help to breakdown the bias. The only challenge is if some won’t entertain the women’s only display in general and pass it by. Overall, I think that the efforts that you discussed that are being made in favor of a more equal representation of gender in the arts field is a step in the right direction.

  4. Recognizing women in art is so important, but I will admit I never fully considered the weight behind gender inequalities in the art world. When you consider the influences of art on society and culture for centuries upon centuries, it is hard to overstate how impactful art is and has always been. But what happens when this art is only broadcasting one type of voice? This is not a new phenomenon. We’ve seen this in film. We’ve talked about this in education. We’ve pondered gendered stereotypes and how they are perpetuated in virtually every area of life. Here, once again, it is heartbreaking to think of all of the art history that women have been erased from.

    This is a pattern. This disparity and underrepresentation of women is everywhere. And with each job or area of society where there is a lack of the female voice, it has it’s own implications and impacts upon other areas. These instances are intertwined. It makes since that media today would be dominated by men as they are the ones who have had their voices valued in traditional forms of art since forever. When you think of it this way, film is just a new type of art.

    Breaking through these inequalities in one area could send a ripple affect to others. I think the National Museum of Women in the Arts is such a wonderful space to allow women to be celebrated in their art. And I wonder if women are more valued in the art world, could that naturally translate into other fields? If our art is valued, and our voice is valued, and our history is valued, then perhaps our cinematography will be valued, our scripts will be valued, and our stories that we tell will be heard.

    An article I read after reading Madeleine’s post talks about “How the art world airbrushed female artists from history”. It goes into the historical dismissal of female artists but in a lighter tone notes how this might be changing. I suggest giving it a read if you want to explore deeper into this topic.

  5. I really liked the topic you picked. I think it is easy to get caught up with all the discrimination and issues women face rather than acknowledging all the positive efforts that are being made. Although there are still issues women face and there are certainly barriers that still need to be overcome, there are certainly positive things like the NMWA that are helping women gain equity and representation.

    I also like how you discussed the arts. When we talk about women and leadership we tend to think about women in male-dominated professions like law or STEM. The arts are typically viewed as a more feminine discipline, but it is often overlooked as a profession that can still have gender inequality. Despite gender norms that are engrained into society that would make you think more females would be praised in the art world, they are still overshadowed by males. It is a hard pill to swallow that even fields that are seen as more “feminine” are still dominated by males. And this is why it is so important to have institutions like the NMWA that highlight the work of females specifically in order to get more equity and representation.

    We often tend to focus on digital media like movies and TV shows when we talk about art but often fail to recognize that traditional art also plays a role in shaping our society. The are that is circulated and valued says a lot about culture at specific points in history. If traditional art is dominated by men, then there are a lot of marginalized communities along gender, race, and class lines that are ignored.

    I agree that the NMWA is a good platform for artists of various ethnic, socioeconomic, and sexual identities to have a space for their work to be recognized and valued. We need spaces like that in society if the work of marginalized groups are ever going to be valued as much as artists from the dominant ideology.

    The main part I found interesting about your post is the online activism and social change aspect of the museum. That is what is most important to recognize when discussing the NMWA. Museums are often overlooked as structures that can spark social change. Art and museums that highlight female artists have the ability to inspire women to advocate for equity and fight gender inequality. They are not just places you go to pay a fee and see a couple of paintings. Art can resonate with people and have the power to create legitimate change in our society.

    I found another article that talked about how women painter are often overlooked in art history. They are overlooked, ignored, and not valued as much because the people at the top of the art industry are predominately men. These men at the top of the art industry are the ones who determine what is worthy to be record of the most valued art. Because the people who make the decision of what is “important” in the history of are are predominately white men, the artistic developments and artwork certain groups and individual create are forgotten due to their gender, ethnicity, or social class. (The article I found:

    All of this got me thinking, how can we overcome gender inequality in male dominated professions when “female” fields also face gender bias and are dominated by men? What can we do to get women equity in both “masculine” and “feminine” fields?

  6. Hi, Madeline! I have a few thoughts in response to your post!

    First, I love the quote that you placed at the top of your post. I think it is very easy for us to assume that more liberal places do not experience gender discrimination or disparity as much as others because we generally tend to assume gender equality as a more liberal construct. It’s important for us to be mindful that more liberal fields, such as the arts, are not necessarily going to reflect the more liberal ideal of equality. We should still strive to look critically in these places and consider whether discrimination and/or inequality exists.

    I found your line about use of poetry vs. prose during the first wave of feminism and the opinions of using either incredibly interesting, so I decided to look this up. I unfortunately did not find anything talking about the different uses of either during the first wave of feminism. However, I did find an article that talked about the use of poetry during the first two waves of feminism. I’ve attached the article here and will share my main findings below:

    1st Wave Feminism: Poetry was “direct and accessible; a rhetoric of statement and honesty; a person voice, language literal or symbolic rather than figurative”. The subject matter for these poems was focused on breaking down the barrier between the private and public lives of women. Reflecting on the main purposes of the movement, which included acquiring property rights and getting out of the shadow of their husbands, the poetry clearly aligns with the purposes of this movement.

    2nd Wave Feminism: Reaches into deeper spaces than first wave feminism through more thematic, formal, dramatic, philosophical, and deeply complex explanations of not only the personal experience of women, but also their collective experience. In other words, this is regarded as a more complex, aesthetically pleasing poetry that’s meant to push the bounds of the mind.

    I think the whole notion of having a place solely for female artists is interesting and begs an interesting question across all fields and disciplines in regards to the advancement of women. Should we focus on pushing female leaders into more male dominated spaces, or should we focus more upon creating new spaces for female leaders that are solely for them? Obviously, NWMA has picked one direction to go in, but what are the benefits of either route as we push to make female leaders more prominent and accessible in our culture. My own thoughts are that pushing female leaders into male-dominated spaces allows for an actual increase in gender equality while making it apparent that women can be leaders. However, the women who have to begin that process will suffer a lot and face many challenges while trying to break through that barrier in any career field. At the same time, can we truly say we have achieved gender equality by simply creating a space for only women leaders? I think of the quote “separate but not equal” from the civil rights movement regarding the segregation of the races. Are we truly equal to each other as the sexes if we separate ourselves into different categories in every field? I don’t think we are, but I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the creation of spaces for only female leaders and the impact this had on the movement towards gender equality.

  7. As most others have stated here, thinking about women in artistic spaces has not been a much contested area of inquiry. I think there is an assumption that women are more artistic, at least when we think about the art influences in our everyday lives such as art teachers. Also, “the arts” themselves tend to be more associated with feminine qualities/characteristics, so much so that it never really occurred to me to identify whose art we are really seeing. Thinking about famous artists, musicians, writers, etc., I can clearly see where there is a prevalence of men and male voices. Although I think that partly has to do with the time in which much of today’s famous art was created, and the lack of importance women’s voices had, I understand that there needs to be more done. I applaud this museum and you for bringing a different topic to our attention.

    Upon exploring the website, I came across the “Advocate” page, in which a famous painting of a naked women was superimposed with a face of a gorilla and the caption, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 4% of artists in the modern sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are female” (from Guerilla Girls). It was followed by a few statements, one of which was, “Art is a reflection of society. If the artistic landscape neglects women, what does that say about society as a whole?” I think that this speaks volumes about the society in which we live and the gender bias that permeates our understanding of society and culture. This all goes back to representation (or the lack thereof), and the importance of including all voices at the table and in the conversations. Art can be expressed across a variety of mediums, and it should also come from a variety of diverse sources. The fact that we need a separate museum, a separate area of study, a separate class even to appreciate the contributions of women signifies that we need to be incorporated more often into the discussion, but also that safe spaces such as these should be even more appreciated, as they used to not exist at all.

  8. I’m so glad you wrote about this museum and what it does for the awareness towards the lack of parity in the arts. I think most people get so caught up in the idea that the arts are inherently progressive that they assume that they would have much more equality between women and men but this is sadly not the case. In fact, I found it disappointing that when I read your post, you said the museum is in DC, which I live only an hour away from and I have never even heard of the museum. Though there are certainly a myriad of museums in DC and one shouldn’t be expected to know of all of them, it is sad that such an important museum is not more prominent in the city and the minds of those who live in the area.

  9. The vast lack of representation of female artists is something that I’ve noticed quite frequently at art galleries. Walking through an art gallery, the majority of the time the featured artists are exclusively male, and female representation is scattered among the general exhibits. I did not know about the pay gap, but it does not surprise me in the slightest. Oftentimes female artists have some of the most intricate and detailed works, while the main exhibits on display are modern abstract pieces that portray very little emotion or hard work. My grandmother was an artist and created the most beautiful paintings. I remember asking her once when I was little why she didn’t sell her pieces and she told me that she could never get more than $80 for her more intricate paintings, paintings that usually take her days to complete. female artists have a much harder time being recognized for their work, because it seems like artistic qualities are more normalized among women so when a man paints something beautiful or thought-provoking, it seems more extraordinary. Female artists should be more recognized for their work because they put just as much, if not more, effort into their work and are often buried in art galleries, if they can even get that far.

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