When all the artists are women

56

Dear Artist,

Last night I was giving a short talk and signing books at one of our local art clubs. I happened to notice no men were in the hall. The club has many male members, they assured me, but apparently they don’t come out on rainy nights. Not to listen to me, anyway. I wasn’t crestfallen — I was being sociologically informed. I’ve always noticed the 80/20 split in these organizations, but I knew the full-female thing was just around the corner. Anyway, it was a combined lecture and holiday-season windup, the shortbread was good, and no one asked me to dance.

Roots, 1943 oil on metal 12 x 19.5 inches by Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Roots, 1943
oil on metal, 12 x 19.5 inches
by Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

If you don’t mind, I’m going to lay some statistics on you. Of the 82 new people who signed up for the Twice-Weekly Letter yesterday, 56 were women. That’s 68% — which pretty well mirrors our current ratio of 67% women subscribers. Maybe this means females might be more willing to listen to males than males are. If true, one wonders what percentage of males is willing to listen to females.

Fact is, women are more into growth, self-improvement, networking and learning than men. In a recent UNESCO study, more women than men got university degrees in 75 of 98 countries. This goes for most professions with the exception of engineering, computer science and math. Some fields are being overwhelmed with women. The vet school in Guelph, Ontario, for example, reports 80% of current grads are women.

The Two Fridas, 1939 oil on canvas 68.3 × 68 inches by Frida Kahlo

The Two Fridas, 1939
oil on canvas, 68.3 × 68 inches
by Frida Kahlo

The fact that boys lag behind girls in school is well known and not peculiar to our times. Studies show that as early as grade nine girls crave learning more than boys. Apparently the boys are now lagging later and later. The new statistics might be alarming to some. Roles may be reversing. Are men going to be stay-at-home-dads while the women go out into the world and slay dragons? Is breeding going to grind to a halt? Are women going to be all the doctors, lawyers and artists? And by the way, do men just not want to listen because they already know it all and need to get on with it?

Best regards,

Robert

My Nurse and I, 1937 oil on metal 12 x 13.6 inches by Frida Kahlo

My Nurse and I, 1937
oil on metal, 12 x 13.6 inches
by Frida Kahlo

PS: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anaïs Nin)

Esoterica: The “demographic bomb,” as it’s being called, may have its short term benefits, but the longer picture is not so rosy, particularly for Western cultures. If women are busy building empires, where will the new customers be coming from? One more statistic and I’ll shut up and get back to my easel: In my four top galleries it looks like 27% of living artists represented are women. Ten years ago it was 24%.

This letter was originally published as “When all the artists are women” on December 11, 2009.

Kahlo 1933

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” (Frida Kahlo)

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56 Comments

  1. Sorry to be commenting on something that is 10 years old and written by your Dad, Sarah. But I need to point out that if men were really lazy, being a stay-at-home mom would be a really BAD choice.

    Also wondering what the stats are today?

    Thanks
    Karen
    Female artist

    • Hi Karen, I watched a TED talk recently given by a neurologist; she pointed out that in a room full of businessmen, if the one woman talks, the men only listen to 30% of what she says. And that goes for the rest of life as well. sigh.

      • Yeah, but what they dont pick up (no pun intended) with their ears, they catch with their eyes! ..lol

        Seriously, i have noticed (in 2019) how true this is. I google workshops, sip/paint evenings…etc and most if not all are women!
        Very cool! And to be honest i would choose to speak to a woman because typically they are able to listen with compassion, understanding, thoughtfulness and their ‘gut’….

        I had the beautiful opportunity to spend 2.5 yrs with an art group
        from the church i was attending at the time…all female..cept for me…30 of us when we all made it…it went quite well. Made some good friends, had some lively, deep conversations. It was a blessing.

        While the stats re: men vs women are interesting, personally, no matter the gender, we are all given gifts and talents in a unique form and we should all be allowed to exercise and express them for the betterment of all!

  2. do men just not want to listen because they already know it all and need to get on with it – No but they often THINK they know it all – a crucial difference! (Asking for directions, anyone?)

      • One day at Lake Louise I guided two men who were absolutely fit and competent. I asked them why they had hired me. It seems that the year before they had gone out camping and followed their GPS. They had to be rescued because they were lost for 4 days. They hired me for a relaxing, non-stressful walk in the Rockies. LOL

      • The men mostly get upset with this subject. The women see what’s going on. See my comment below. The male problem may be exacerbated by females finally figuring out their worth and many guys can’t take it. As I said…Come on boys, grow up.

  3. Let a male artist in his ninth decade answer this. Robert was right on about the subject and it may be getting worse. I say, worse, since I see way too many males staying in their childhood or adolescence for their whole life…what a waste. The family, for which I am the old guy, is rather large and four generations. It’s at least three quarters female and I’m well aware of the huge, wide range of talent and intellect of our women and girls.
    There are some really good artists in my long-term acquaintance with Idaho, but the principle art group I helped start forthy-ish years ago matches exactly what Robert said. The male painters are as good as the women but a lot fewer, as in a lot of social parts of life. Come on boys, grow up and get with it!

    • GEORGE REIS on

      I like your comments, Levi, and i too am in my ninth decade, mostly a career in law enforcement and on the side, an artist…I think what we have in this discussion, was referred to by poet Rudyard Kipling in his famous quote ‘neer the twain shall meet’…..but in 2019 we are closer.

  4. This omits a very important point: that our education system continues to fail us on so many levels. Institutionalized learning which consists of sitting children down at desks, lined up in rows, and forced to pay attention to one authority figure who professes to bring forth “learning ‘ to the young open minds is actually a very repressive model to the human spirit. And given that boys, at a young age are naturally restless, rambunctious, mischievous among other qualities that are repressed, shut down and medicated as a current norm has had a long term effect on how we proceed as a society. This is not to say that girls don’t have these qualities, but that they seem seem as a generality able to adapt to the discipline of public schooling. I have seen girls, in a democratic free school setting, act as wild as boys which is to say that this quality of adaptability is not good either.

    Life as it is, has never been encouraging to creative careers. I have watched as creative nephews and sons of friends get shut down early by nervous parents and teachers who encourage boys to ignore their impulses of curiosity and to pursue something more “practical.” I have come to believe that the school setting is actually no place to learn. Learning comes from asking questions about the world we live in and then seeking out the answers.

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” —Benjamin Disraeli

    • Schools were, and are, designed to teach people to work in factories. How many factories do you see now yet the same process of teaching persists. Couple this with “no child left behind and you have a nonfunction school system, Studies show 48% of the population has an IQ of a hundred or less. They also show an IQ of 115, or above, is necessary to succeed in college. If everyone goes to college then the most apparent way for this to succeed is to lower the requirements to not only get into college but to also graduate high school. College thereby becomes an expensive high school diploma.
      The local art associations are run by women and meetings are schedule during the hours men work.

    • You are presuming that, left alone, most children will naturally explore, ask thoughtful questions, and come to their own learning in and about the world. I believe this is emphatically NOT SO, especially now that we medicate them with phones and games and television. Many children today sink back into mindless drivel and become totally aimless. Why don’t they bring those good qualities to school in the first place? School is about the only thing asking something of them.

      • I havew seen otherwise. Children left on their own, with the time and freedom to discover who they has an incredible outcome. It is not to say there is NO supervision, but in a Democratic Free School, teachers are referred to as advisors. Their job is to keep their eyes open and intervene when it is needed. Coercion is not a path to a creative life. There needs to be more trust and the current system has none. So as a culture, we are extremely unfulfilled.

  5. Andrew Biscuette on

    I guess being sexist against men is okay. This statement “Fact is, women are more into growth, self-improvement, networking and learning than men” is appalling. If that’s not apparent to you, then please continue to revel in your misandry.

    • Tripe such as this article only confirms my misogyny. The tearing down of the american male in order to build up the fragile egos of the female has numerous long term consequences.

      • Andrew Biscuette on

        While I am certainly not a misogynist, it is true that the widespread carelessness of promoting women fuels a nasty contempt for men. Something that women seem to find humour in. Doesn’t bode well for gender relations.

    • My son is entering a major east coast art school next year. He remarked that the majority of the student body was female. I thought it wrong so we checked. The school had very detailed census of student body makeup. He was correct. more than 60% was female. This is just a fact. Another statistic was that 40% were non-resident aliens, mostly from Asia. It is not a political statement, just observing trends in how humans move about.

  6. A thoughtful post, and timely, but I take issue with the notion that men are simply not interested in listening or learning. Fruit ripens when it’s exposed to sunlight, and the same can be said for human beings. In the 1950s and ’60s society celebrated men and turned a blind eye to their shortcomings (at the expense of women). Today it’s just the opposite. Women are universally celebrated and men are portrayed as embodying everything wrong with society. The messages boys receive from the mass media on a daily basis confirm in their young minds they are second class citizens, just as girls felt of lesser value a few decades ago. When one sex is lionized at the expense of the other, individuals and entire societies suffer. I have no doubt male graduation rates will rise, and numbers of male artists, doctors, and scientists will grow, when young men receive the same level of positive reinforcement the fairer sex currently enjoys.

  7. In UK the women/men ratio of the audience/participants at art talks and demonstrations is definitely mostly women. In fact the ones I’ve attended have been all women. The last one was a weekend workshop taught and demonstrated by an internationally acclaimed male artist whose paintings are in dark colours, mostly monotone, very dramatic and almost abstract – and which traditionally might have been assumed to appeal more to men than women and yet once again, all of us were women.
    However when I went to art school only 10 years ago there were a few male students in my year – I think 4 men and about 12 women. (Our tutors, both men, and the 4 male classmates all swung towards dark colours and very dramatic colours and both tutors were dead set against me painting in the bright and/or pastel colours I love and prefer though I sometimes enjoy the darks and dramatics – hence I much enjoyed the latest course described above.
    But definitely, whatever the subject, style and colours of the teachers the students, especially mature students, are predominately, and often exclusively, female as in the time Robert wrote the above piece. Interesting that nothing has changed in this particular demographic in UK. I too would like to know how it is in US today?

  8. In our family, most of the men did not do well in grade school or in high school. It was after they found the right woman, that they got straight A’s in college.
    I admit to being prejudiced as a young girl – thinking that my brother would not do well, because he couldn’t sit still.
    But, the last laugh was on me.
    He matured into a great man – exceeding his sisters in education, being able to talk before hundreds of people without fear and serving in the military in a war zone.

    I admire men more as I age. They truly have brilliant minds – it’s not just their thing to do well in grade school because most subjects are not geared to their interests – beginning mechanics, beginning woodwork/construction, etc. Because it is women creating the curriculums? And women teaching instead of men who could bring out the best in the boys. I see these interests in my own family members and I will continue to buy presents for the boys that I know they love. They are already the ones who can take something apart and understand the mechanics of it.
    While the girls are into make-up or frivolous things like drawing a picture. The men are our hardy souls we lean on when we need to be rescued in the night on a lonely highway in the snow. Too often we take them for granted.

  9. In all social construction, there swings a pendulum. It’s been winging on the male side for some time, so one should expect movements in the other direction. Will there be backlash? Of course, for the fear of harm is forever honing us in anticipation. Both sexes have tremendous talents, and since we know they run with different engines on different fuels, it’s time we peacefully acknowledged this and better learned ourselves. Much has been accomplished in the pendulum’s swing one direction far from the balance point. Shouldn’t we expect no less from this current correction?

  10. I’ve been teaching art in recreation programs with classes for children, adults and seniors for the past 10 years. At all levels, in classes of 12 students, 10 to 11 of them are always female. So, that’s parents bringing children in for art learning; and adults and seniors choosing to take classes. Confirming of what Robert wrote 10 years ago. Always saddens me …

  11. Anyone past their 40th birthday should be able to read the signs of the times. Feminism has morphed our society in ways that put boys and men at a distinct disadvantage in almost every area of life. While some women may feel this is just and a correction, the consequences are rather bleak. History shows us that unhappy, disadvantaged men become antagonists, leading to wars, revolutions, and all types of violence. Im not sure the destruction of society is worth our odd and misapplied concentration on female opportunity. Something to think about the next time you put more women on the pedestal that is hanging by a thread.

    • Weren’t some of the aggressive leaders of the past – FEMALES? Like Queens, or the wives of Kings?
      Sometimes the women are secretly manipulative?

  12. JÉRÉMIE GILES on

    To follow up on the subject of women in art, I feel very confident that we have reached the figure of over 50% of painters and sculptors in canada are women….I say BRAVO !
    I’m a male artist whom has been whishing this to happen for the last 60 years yes at least 69 YEARS.

  13. Or maybe women just have husbands with good jobs so they can spend their time making art. (stop typing, it’s called “click bait”) Growing up I was told art was a nice hobby but I needed to get a “real” job in order to support a wife and family. I’m now 70 and starting to paint again but now it is just a “hobby.”

  14. GEORGE REIS on

    I like your comments, Levi, and i too am in my ninth decade, mostly a career in law enforcement and on the side, an artist…I think what we have in this discussion, was referred to by poet Rudyard Kipling in his famous quote ‘neer the twain shall meet’…..but in 2019 we are closer.

  15. Andrew Neagle on

    This could be seen as a slightly bigger issue, Art as a profession is tough and not guaranteed an income unless you are amazing and or very lucky , Husbands also have a deep desire generally to provide and sustain their family. If their wives enjoy going to Art activities and are happy, so is the husband.

    As a guy I also suffer from the lone wolf condition, I struggle to be in larger groups and enjoy being solitary, generally ladies enjoy one anothers company and thrive. It’s a great social event sharing ideas and interests. I would be very awkward and shy in this situation and would rather do something else, maybe go to the dentist ;]

  16. (Just out of curiosity: Did anyone work out the ratio of male v female responders to this column?)

    This is a hot topic for many reasons.

    The question from this granny with 4 grandsons and 1 g-daughter is: who will survive the blood-letting? Change must come but the flailing around, wildly throwing blame here and there as seen in our society since the pendulum swings of the past 60-odd years will not help anyone weather the storms. Cool heads are called for.

    How about celebrating our differences! Here’s an idea — let’s all accept our share of responsibility, accept the messy “house” we have inherited and do our own weeding, pruning and planting.

    Perhaps society would benefit from conversations based on letters like this. Not lectures, not accusations, but discussions in which it is permissible to agree to disagree but in which others’ points of view can be heard. Conversations.

    I close with this sign found on the kitchen wall: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

    Let’s live with it and move on.

    • out of 140 in our guild maybe a handful are male wE WOMEN LIVE LONGER SO BY ABOUT 55 MOST MEN ARE GOING DOWNHILL. i AM NEARLY 80 STILL WORKING

  17. When I decided to take up painting after a 25-year hiatus and wanted to try acrylics, after my first year I signed up for a 7-day acrylics workshop for “intermediate” painters by a popular female painter. First class I was surprised to find there were 14 women and me, the only male. It didn’t take long to realize most, if not all of these women knew each other from having taken this same workshop before. In fact, some of them were taking it for the third or fourth time. I found it puzzling why anyone would take the same course over again several times. Were they there to learn about painting, or was there another purpose to their participation? Just asking.

    • I live in a rural area. Workshops allow me to work and talk with people who know immediately what I mean when I say “yellow ochre”. I also attend workshops when I am feeling stuck in a rythm. I have attended workshops by the same instructor. In one case, the topic/focus of the workshops was very different. In the second case, the instructor was an excellent teacher and three years later my art/skill level was very different when I first took the course. Yes, there are some people who take workshops as a social event but I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t understand the disdain some artists show to people who go to workshops.

  18. I agree that it’s the usual gender expectations rather than any improvement in life choices for both sexes.

    As art slips further into irrelevancy the more it’s seen as a mere pass time — acceptable for women (let them do their silly nonsense, it wont amount to anything worthwhile ) and unacceptable for men (he must provide, being an artist is shameful, at least be a teacher or something)

    Sad for both, no winners here.

  19. In my classes and workshops most are women and an occasional man. In my years of experience with art organizations I see mostly women who because of marriage, children and jobs delayed the development of artistic ambitions until they are free to pursue their dreams . Men who are artistic develop those skills early and pursue those dreams when young, often while holding down a job as well. The other factor is that most men seem to feel uncomfortable in groups of women especially if they are older women.
    If we want to change this we should support and encourage our young girls to pursue careers in art as well as math, engineering and other sciences.

  20. Suellen Lash on

    Then again, I can’t imagine de kooning or Jackson Pollack subscribing. I can imagine them just getting on with it and spending time fussing and worrying about it..

  21. Suellen Lash on

    Then again, I can’t imagine de kooning or Jackson Pollack subscribing. I can imagine them just getting on with it and not spending time fussing and worrying about it..

  22. Thank you so much for this post. The data tells an interesting story and not in a good way. Majority of art education consumers, academic and commercial are women. They are the majority of Art majors and they are the majority in workshops, classes etc. They spend most money on art supplies, keeping Blick and CheapJoes, et al alive, . However they are under represented in galleries, in art competitions, as jurors, , in prize money. All the way thru the food chain. I just hope this is changing because still today, more men are making the big money, taking it out, while women are putting most of the money in. I always look at the numbers of these big competitions, who gets in, who wins., who juries. And one should look at fine art mags in the same way- who is getting the write ups? Male v female. Because we know who is buying those publications. Women. So these are the facts today and I’m just hoping awareness spreads so change can follow. Thanks again for this post.

  23. Marilu Rudez on

    It gives me no joy to posit that if only 24% of the artists represented in galleries were women, it sounds as if men are on another track that leads to gallery representation.

    • Could it be the men are busy at their easels painting while the women are attending every workshop available, busy with “growth, networking, self improvement and learning”?

  24. Wow… I was pretty shocked to see the flagrant misogynism of a number of male responders (not all! Thank you, Levi, George, and a couple of others — my apologies for not including you by name).

    The point: women have been underrepresented in galleries for decades, though lots of women make art. And we’re only talking about the modern era — it was so much tougher in earlier centuries. I knew a woman who was part of the Abstract Expressionist movement in NYC. Their first show, the Ninth Street Show, happened because she rented the building and collected the money from all the artists to pay for it. Did she, or the other women involved, get the kind of acclaim and representation and prices the men did? Unfortunately, no.

    And things haven’t changed a whole lot since then. It’s not an issue of quality.

    It’s sad that so many male responders here feel insecure enough about their own position that: a) they refuse to acknowledge that women’s underrepresentation is a problem, and b) they feel the need to verbally attack women as a group with the kind of accusations we see above.

    As Levi said so succinctly, and with great wisdom, Grow up, boys. Just paint, okay? If you’re feeling insecure, paint better. Don’t beat up on women — verbally, professionally, or in any other way. Nursing grievances and bullying doesn’t help you or anyone else. How about just trying to make the world a better place?

  25. Charles Eisener on

    Interesting in some ways, but fascinating to see the twists and turns in the responses.

    In the mid 1960’s I participated in a painting “class” in Nova Scotia that was sponsored by a local female artist in her studio. As I recall there were about five female participants plus myself.

    I currently paint with a group at a local senior’s center in North Carolina. There are more than 20 registrants, and only three of us are male. The host is a female artist.

    Most of my years painting have been done in isolation, not out of social issues, but because the requirement for regular, scheduled sessions was simply not convenient. Sometimes, to be sure, the only options were available during work hours, but sometimes they were restrictive. As I painted with acrylics, watercolour or pastel classes were not deemed useful.

    Sometimes we perceive women as being more sensitive, but I have to admit that some of the most nasty people I have worked with were female. So you deal with it. Each and every person is unique and deserves to be judged and treated upon their own merits. I cannot change the world, but I can share a smile with those around me, regardless of their opinions, sex, race, or faith.

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