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Do Women Have to be Naked?

[BLOG POST 10/08/23] Well that's eye catching isn't it???

And it hits home too.

There is a significant gender bias in the art world not the least of which is the predominance of male artists painting women in the nude, and often surrounding those women by fully clothed men.

Take for example these two famous paintings:

I think it would be funny to recreate these paintings with the roles reversed--a naked man surrounded by fully clothed women.

How would people react?

How would YOU react?

Overall, the more I learn about gender bias in the art world the more disappointed I feel.

Check out these statistics from the National Museum of Women in the Arts located in Washington DC:

  • 87% of the works in major museum collections are by men.

  • Only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women.

  • Nearly half (45.8%) of visual artists in the United States are women; on average, they earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists.

  • A recent survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent U.S. art museums found that the represented artists are 87% male and 85% white.

  • Women in the arts are found not to experience the “motherhood penalty”—lost or stagnant income after children. But men in the arts do receive an income bump when they become fathers.

At first I was surprised to find all this out but then I looked at all this information from the perspective of our very male-centric, male-celebrated, male-privileged society and I wasn't surprised at all.

Also not a surprise, gender bias shows up throughout daily life from healthcare where a United Nations global report in 2020 found that close to 90% of all people have some form of gender bias against women (Medical News Today), to car ownership where a recent study by Northwestern University found that auto-repair shops give women significantly higher price quotes than men if they are uninformed about market prices (Washington Post), and in entertainment where the 1985 Bechdel Test brought to light how rare it is to see two or more women in a film talking to one another about something other than a man.

Even how we imagine the future has a strong gender bias. Science fiction is rampant with mostly white men colonizing space in their own image while women generally show up as villains, sex objects, or robots. And sometimes as all three as evidenced in the 2004 relaunch of Battlestar Galactica (photo below). This female character wasn't even given a name other than "Number 6".

FYI: The podcast "The Evening Rocket: Baby X " by Jill Lepore who is the David Woods Kemper Professor of American History, Affiliate Professor of Law at Harvard University, and a staff writer for The New Yorker, does a great job exploring this topic.

Thankfully there is more and more recognition of this issue and more and more organizations dedicated to equalizing gender along with race and sexual orientation in every field including the art world.

At the forefront of the art world is the National Museum of Women in the Arts I mentioned above. It was the first museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts.

Founded by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay, they began collecting art in the 1970s just as scholars and art historians were beginning to discuss this very topic of underrepresentation of art by women and various racial and ethnic groups in museums.

"Among the first to apply this revisionist approach to collecting, the Holladays committed themselves to assembling art by women. By 1980, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay began to devote her energies and resources to creating a museum that would showcase women artists, and the Holladay Collection became the core of the institution’s holdings." -- NMWA website

At first they operated from the Holladay's residence and then in 1981 they incorporated as a private, nonprofit museum. In 1983, the museum purchased its building at 1250 New York Avenue, NW and by 1987 it opened its doors to the public.

Now other organizations are doing the same:

Melbourne, Australia

This is Australia’s only commercial gallery to show works exclusively by women. Founded by Lisa Fehily, an art consultant who was inspired by viral campaigns concerning the underrepresentation of women’s art in commercial galleries.

More than 500 works of modern and contemporary art by prominent women artists are held in this Cambridge college collection housed in a modernist wing of Murray Edwards College.

Frauenmuseum Bonn, Germany

This museum has hosted more than 500 exhibitions. All shows are considered through an art-historical lens, with recent exhibitions exploring female friendship in the 18th century and women’s suffrage.

Radical suffragette ephemera and rare LGBTQ+ journals are included in the Glasgow Women’s Library archive collection. As well as being the UK’s only accredited museum to exclusively archive women’s lives, the library also hosts a program of public events and supports women across Scotland to tackle a range of issues around violence, health and sexuality.

Those of you who subscribe to my monthly newsletter "The Horn" already know that I am proud new member of the New Mexico State Committee of the National Museum for Women in the Arts. It is not a museum or gallery but instead it is a volunteer organization that works with the National Museum to champion women artists of New Mexico through a dynamic variety of programs and activities ranging from gallery talks to art shows to studio visits and more.

Wherever you are in the USA or around the world there may be another National Museum committee doing the same work. Or maybe there is a completely different organization with a similar mission of supporting women in the arts. Take a look around and, if you feel inspired, lend them a helping hand. ❤️

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