While the number of female graduates in creative disciplines keeps rising, a London based art audit reveals the persistent imbalance of gender representation within the professional art scene.

 

Despite all recent worries for the increasing ‘gender gap’ at universities by which, soon, boys will require to be treated as an under-represented group (Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service UCAS), it is another gender disparity that should actually concern the public at present times:
Although education, it is true, is increasingly becoming female territory, it is also confirmed by data that women graduates still end up being under-represented within the professional world.

More specifically, the attested trend is for women to prevail in Arts & Humanities courses (percentages remain low in subjects such as Computer Science, Engineering & Technology, Architecture), representing more than 61% of graduates in Arts & Design.

GENDER BREAKDOWN: 2012 UK GRADUATES – ARTS & HUMANITIES

Following this academic orientation, it is shocking to be faced with the results of the audit by the East London Fawcett (ELF), aimed at disclosing the real numbers behind the London professional art scene. Conducted between April 2012 and April 2013, surveying more than 160 galleries, around 400 publicly commissioned artworks, auction performances and art fairs, the results of this investigation highlight an alarming disparity between sexes.

ELF ART AUDIT RESULTS: COMMERCIAL GALLERIES

“I recently gave an informal talk at an art school,” says Emily Pope, young London visual artist and coordinator at ELF, “the resounding feeling was that female students didn’t really want a career as artists, anyway. The importance of discussion and campaigning for equality is still paramount”.

 

Guerrilla Girls, 1989



Instilled lack of confidence, motherhood and fear for financial security are surely crucial factors, combined with the widely acknowledged industry issue of uneven representation from galleries.

In spite of the liberal and progressive attitude associated with the art scene in the English capital, women keep struggling within a male-dominated environment, even in public art institutions and commissions.

ELF ART AUDIT RESULTS: PUBLIC ART COMMISSIONS

Beyond the consistent media attention gained by some of its female nominees and winners such as Tracey Emin or Laure Prouvost, the illustrious Turner Prize only counts five female winners (17%) since its opening edition in 1984, and 70% of all time nominees are men.

ALL TIME TURNER PRIZE NOMINEES

The situation gets even worse if we move on to the more lucrative world of art auctions: no female made it into the top 100 sales of 2012.
Gemma Rolls-Bentley, independent curator and ELF director, sat down to analyse the list, “some of those artists were alive, some were dead, all were highly valued – considered “great” or “genius” – and all were men. People were saying: ‘I find I can’t even have this conversation about equality in the art world’ because so many people think it’s already been achieved. Because figures like Tracey Emin have defied the statistics, their rare success misleads people into thinking women get an equal shot.” - Kira Cochrane, The Guardian

Statistical evidence of persisting gender inequality provides an excellent starting point to raise awareness and slowly build the necessary radical changes.
At the 2012 edition of the Frieze Art Fair, - a leading international fair, pivotal event in the art agenda – only 27.5% of the participating artists were women and 67% of the 135 international galleries in the commercial section were still representing less than one third female artists.

ELF ART AUDIT RESULTS: 2012 FRIEZE ART FAIR

If women’s marginalisation has been a traditional issue and campaigning against gender imbalance remains crucial, there’s also positive trends to consider for the future:

“The art audit’s message is one of optimism”, says Gemma Rolls-Bentley on The Guardian.

ELF shows encouraging figures for that same 2012 Frieze week:
23.3% of London commercial galleries hosted solo shows of women artists at this central time for their business; a comparable study from 2008 reported a percentage for that year of only 11.6%.

FEMALE SOLO SHOWS DURING FRIEZE ART FAIR

Further positive signs arrive from the publishing industry as well; more and more female artists are being featured on the cover of prominent specialist magazines.

It is important to acknowledge and legitimate the issue of women’s discrimination within the art world through hard facts and figures; it is the first necessary step towards building open discussions and deep, radical change within creative environments whose original liberal values are not to be intended as granted guarantee for gender balance and equal representation.

 

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