Are men 10 times better at painting than women? You might think so if you listen to German artist Georg Baselitz, who told the Guardian in 2015 that “women don’t paint very well. It is a fact. The market doesn’t lie “.
The market may not deliberately deceive us, but it certainly gives the impression that male artists are much better than female ones. The most expensive painting ever sold – Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi – reached $ 450 million, while the world record for a female artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, is just $ 44.4 million, one-tenth.
The women were dropped from the tunnels when they became pregnant. Buying their job was considered risky as they weren’t going to be so busy in their careers
Of course, this is an unfair comparison. For most of human history, women have not been allowed to practice the art in the same way as men, so there are inevitably fewer old lovers than old masters. But even among living artists, Jeff Koons holds the record, at $ 91 million, while Jenny Saville’s female record is just $ 12.5 million.
And further down the chain, there is still a 10: 1 disparity. Helen Gorrill, the author of Women Can’t Paint, studied the prices of 5,000 paintings sold worldwide and found that for every £ 1 a male artist earns for her work, a woman only earns £ 10. pence. “It’s the most shocking gender value gap you’ve ever encountered in any industry,” she told me for a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Recalculating Art.
It is truly shocking. Women have long made up 70% of art school students, selected on merit, and the art world is proud of its liberal and progressive values. Yet it presides over the largest pay gap that comes to mind.
Gorrill stumbled upon another startling discovery. While the value of a man’s work increases if he has signed it, the value of a woman’s work decreases if he has signed it, as if she had somehow been spoiled by his kind of hers. “This is absolutely mind blowing,” she says.
Let’s go back to quality. Could it be that men are simply better artists? Oxford finance professor Renée Adams decided to put the idea to the test. She showed the participants five paintings of men and five of women and asked them to identify the artist’s gender. They got it right 50% of the time, no better than flipping a coin. This is good proof that men’s art is no different, and therefore no better than women’s art.
He then showed a sample of wealthy men visiting galleries – the classic profile of an art collector – a painting created by AI, and randomly assigned it the name of a male or female artist. If collectors were told it was painted by a man, they said they liked it better than if they were told it was painted by a woman. As she says: “The same artist, the same painting”.
How did we get here? Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, says: “The artists have done very badly because there has been an unconscious collusion between the market, art history and institutions. Everyone lacks confidence, everyone is looking for confirmation. So there was some sort of confirmation story, which you might call the canon. And, of course, the conventions and history have been framed by the patriarchy ”.
You just have to watch The Story of Art by EH Gombrich, still the best-selling art book in the world, awarded to art students from all over the world. In its 688 pages it cites only one female artist. Where is Artemisia Gentileschi? Or Frida Kahlo? Or O’Keeffe? And you just have to look at the museum collections to see how disproportionately masculine they still are. Once an artist has been bought by a museum, the value of his work skyrockets. The same happens if they are given a temporary show.
Meanwhile, some female artists were dropped from the galleries as soon as they announced they were pregnant. He was told that people would no longer take their jobs seriously; that buying their job was too risky because they wouldn’t be so busy in their careers.
So the artists are really against it. The good news is that the world is slowly starting to change. Museums are trying to rebalance their collections. Some even sell men’s artwork to buy more women’s artwork. Auction houses are now pushing female artists and this year the Venice Biennale has been heavily geared towards women.
Even collectors notice it. Even though the prices of artists’ works start from a much lower base, they are currently rising 29% faster than men’s works of art. For astute investors who want a bargain and a higher return, it’s a no-brainer.
Also, a lot of this art is fantastic. As Bellatrix Hubert of the David Zwirner gallery in New York says: “If I’m looking at the artists that interest us the most right now, it’s mostly women who make the best art. Or the art that I think is more interesting.
Don’t women know how to paint? Nonsense. The market also tells us.