The Guerrilla Girls were a radical Feminist group that emerged in 1985 as a response to the under-representation of women in the Modern art collections of museums. This poster is the manifestation of the concern after an inner look into the modern artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After counting the number of nude females against the number of nude males, as well as the number of female artists, the Guerrilla Girls established that even though less than 5% of the artists were female, over 85% of the nude artworks were of females. This prompted the question: do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum -or any museum, for that matter?
A member of the Guerrilla Girls, going under the pseudonym Frida Kahlo in honor of the female artist, said “After about 5 minutes of research we found that it was worse than we thought: the most influential galleries and museums exhibited almost no women artists. When we showed the figures around, some said it was an issue of quality, not prejudice. Others admitted there was discrimination, but considered the situation hopeless…. The artists blamed the dealers, the dealers blamed the collectors, the collectors blamed the critics, and so on. We decided to embarrass each group by showing their records in public.”
Inspired by these claims, I decided to do a bit of my own research (though it is far less inclusive than theirs). I wanted to look at the ratio of female and male models, the ratio of enrollment in undergraduate art programs, and finally the representation of the genders within the New Britain Museum of American Art. In terms of modeling, it seems quite obvious that at least in the fashion world, female models outnumber male models. Perhaps that is because the fashion industry is greatly focused on women, but female models outnumber males in the art world as well. The Register of Artists’ Models, which is based in the United Kingdom, has their list of members posted on their website. I looked through the list and picked out 295 members from various regions and found that 58% were female and 41% were male. While female models are more common, there are plenty of male models as well. Thus, there is no real reason to only paint and display nude females.
Finding statistics for art majors specifically was challenging. Most institutes produce statistics based on general enrollment, or preferred majors of students, but not gender differences in major-specific enrollment. Therefore, there was little information I could find. In a study by Lita S. Whitesel titled “Career Attitudes of Art Students,” she used a sample size of 192 graduate students. Out of those 192, 60 students were art majors which further split into 36 women and 24 men. Another source to look at would be common majors by genders. One website lists fashion design, interior design, and art history as common majors for females while the common majors for males do not include art in any way. According to Forbes Business News, 61.4% of Visual and Performing Arts students are female – with men at only 38.6%. Again, in both cases, there are more female majors than males – so one would think that they would at least be equally represented in museums.
Lastly, let us take a look at our very own New Britain Museum of American Art. I looked through 500 artists alphabetically in our eMuseum – specifically, artists with last names starting with A, M, S, and W. Of those 500 artists, 18% were female and 79% were male (with 2% of unknown gender, in case you were wondering). Though this is much better than the statistics the Guerrilla Girls produced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is still a great gap between the genders, especially when considering the previously mentioned statistics. There is no doubt that female artists are underrepresented in the art world, but what we need to figure out is why that is and how we can change it.
The Guerrilla Girls did a “recount” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004/2005 and came up with new figures – but not much has changed, apparently. Do you think this (still) a problem? Does it only affect the visual arts or other aspects of art as well? Why do you think women are so underrepresented? What could be done to change this?
The New Britain Museum of American Art is proud to announce our next major exhibition: WomenArtists@NewBritainMuseum. This exhibition, comprised of 80 artworks created over 200 years, showcases the highlights of our permanent collection that were made by women artists. Divided into eight themes, this exhibition will demonstrate how women artists have contributed to the advancement of American art. We invite you to the opening reception on January 7 from 5:30-8pm (part of our First Friday event) and to see the show while it is on display from December 18, 2010-March 20, 2011.
Sources and Other Useful Links:
1. Register of Artists’ Models: Member List
2. Majors by Gender: Is It Bias or the Major that Determines Future Pay?
3. Guerrilla Girls Website
4. “Career Attitudes of Art Students” by Lita S. Whitesel (not the complete article)
5. In Pictures: 10 Most Popular College Majors For Women