Do gender biases affect our views on the work of male and female artists? According to a new study, people are no more likely to prefer a work by a man than an almost identical composition by a woman, but they will assume that his work is more famous and worth more money.
“Sex discrimination in art does not come from personal aesthetic preferences -[Georg] Baselitz'[s] the argument that women ‘don’t paint very well’ – but people think paintings are more valuable and famous when painted by male artists”, study authors Robert Hoffmann, professor of behavioral economics at the University of Tasmania, and Bronwyn Coate, senior lecturer in economics at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, wrote in the academic journal The conversation.
These results are perhaps not surprising, given that men dominate the art market. In 2019, women accounted for just 2% of art sales at auction. In 26 major American museums, they represented only 11% of acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions.
Such statistics therefore distort our perception of otherwise remarkably similar works of art, leading viewers to assume that male artists are more successful and command higher prices. In other words, we assume that other people discriminate on the basis of sex, which in turn creates more opportunities for sex discrimination in a vicious cycle.
Entitled “Fame, what’s your name? Quasi-statistical gender discrimination in an art evaluation experimentthe study will appear in the next issue of Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
In each of the five experiments, a group of 1,112 average Americans were asked to examine pairs of paintings. Created between 1625 and 1979, the works were incredibly similar in style and subject matter, but one was by a man and the other by a woman.
In the first experiment, one group of participants was only given the title of the work, while in the other they were also given the name of the artist and thus could guess whether the artist was male or female. In both groups, 54% of respondents preferred women’s work.
The result was the same in a second experiment asking participants to guess which job was most popular among respondents.
But in the third and fourth experiments, when asked which of the two works was more valuable and which artist was more famous, the number of guesses for female paintings dropped by 10% and 9%, respectively.
The final experiment compared the responses of two groups, one of which was told which of the two artists was more famous – almost always the male. This group was 14% more likely to guess that the work of male artists was more popular.
“If female artists were discriminated against solely because of their gender, we would have seen a higher premium placed on male artists, even in matters of aesthetics,” Hoffmann and Coate wrote. “Discrimination only occurred when our participants were asked to assign a monetary value to artworks, or when given information about the painter’s level of fame.”
Such assumptions perpetuate the historical advantages enjoyed by male artists, who benefited from more artistic education and more opportunities to exhibit and sell their work. Women, on the other hand, were often expected to stay home and raise their children, which restricted their artistic careers.
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