Voices: Why has the art world got such a gender pay gap problem?

·4-min read

The art industry is often held in high esteem for its progressive values and encouragement of diversity. The 2021/22 report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that the sector with the largest gender median pay gap was construction, where female employees received 76p for every £1 earned by a man. In comparison, the industries found to hold the smallest gender pay gap were arts, entertainment and recreation.

Despite this, the art world still has an undisputable gender pay gap problem. Work by female artists continues to sell for a fraction of the price received for comparable works by male artists. The artist, academic and author of Women Can’t Paint, Dr Helen Gorrill, studied the selling prices of 5,000 paintings and found that for every £1 a male artist earns for his work, a woman earns a mere 10p.

Likewise, a review of recent auction prices shows a clear disparity between record figures for male and female artists. In 2019, Jeff Koons’ Rabbit sold for a cool $91m (£78m), compared to the sale of Jenny Saville’s Propped at $12.4m only the year before. It’s even been found that when men sign an artwork, it increases in value but when a woman does the same, the work decreases in value.

Last year in the Netherlands, researchers studying gendered pricing bias in artwork conducted a project in which they presented a computer-generated artwork and asked study participants to provide a rating based on how much they liked the painting. One half of the participants saw a female name listed as the artist and the other half, saw a male name. Despite all participants seeing the same painting, higher ratings were given by participants who saw the male name linked to the piece.

Why is women’s artwork consistently devalued? There is clearly a stigma towards female artists and devaluation around artwork produced by women. The sector needs to actively work towards change, to continue the important work of championing gender and sexual diversity within the art world. Diversity is vital to creating a vibrant, innovative and thriving arts sector.

Progress has already been made. For instance, the annual Art Basel and UBS survey found that female artists now make up 40 per cent of private collections, up from 33 per cent in 2018. Further to this, in a recent BBC Radio 4 broadcast, “Recalculating Art”, featuring curators and experts from across the industry, it was established that secondary market prices for pieces by female artists are now rising 29 per cent faster than the prices for art by male artists.

At Artiq, we’ve even seen our corporate clients take a greater interest in work by women artists. One of our clients, law firm Mayer Brown, has an internal women’s association which opted for a collection from mostly female and non-binary artists.

Representation and championing of women artists is being demanded by workers across the UK, and this is an exciting moment of change; all stakeholders across the industry must support women artists, showcasing their work in exhibition, sale, programming and increasing visibility. This includes larger institutions, museums, galleries and corporates alike.

Change is happening, but we cannot afford to lose momentum on addressing the gender pay disparity across the industry. There also needs to be more support for female artists to remain active in the art world throughout their careers. As in many other industries, pregnancy bias exists, and we have a responsibility to support pregnant and child-rearing artists and put provisions in place to ease their transition back into part-time or full-time careers.

Flexibility and a broadening wealth of options to capitalise on their practice would provide women artists with viable options to increase their financial security, and there has been a surge in demand for leased art collections which are rotated quarterly or bi-annually.

The additional benefit of leasing a collection is that renting pieces generates a regular stream of income for the artists whose works are chosen. Curating collections of local artists means that corporates are directly supporting and nurturing a local pool of creative talent, thereby enlivening their own community and putting money back into the local cultural economy.

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The gender pay gap is an issue across all industries. For the art world, women have long been excluded; from exclusion to the life drawing rooms in the 1700s, to a lack of equal representation in galleries even now. Change is needed in the industry, and it’s time to recognise that some of the most pivotal contributions made to the sector have been by women.

Progress is happening; this year the four shortlisted artists for the Turner Prize are all women and Frieze’s much-anticipated Spotlight 2022 Women Artists of the 20th Century will be curated by Camille Morineau and looks to highlight the women pioneers of modern art.

Working towards actively fixing the gender disparity crisis in the art world is vital to encourage the next generation of talent. Seeing is believing; representation, visibility and financial support are critical to the success of the industry.

Tazie Taysom is commercial director at Artiq and is responsible for the creative direction of all Artiq projects and runs the consultancy and curatorial teams. She also sits on the board for the Culture Mile BID Partnership, which aims to animate the City of London’s cultural district