Is there a glass ceiling for female artists?

by on December 15, 2017 at 2:13 am in Data Source, Economics, History, The Arts | Permalink

Using a unique data set consisting of the population of fine art auctions from 2000 to 2017 for Western artists, we provide strong empirical evidence for a glass ceiling for female artists. First, we show that female artists are less likely to transition from the primary (gallery) into the secondary (auction) market. This glass ceiling results in a selection mechanism which is manifested in an average premium of 6% for artworks by female artists. Second, this premium is driven by a small number of women located at the top of the market and turns into a discount when we account for the number of artworks sold. The superstar effect, where a small number of individuals absorbs the majority of industry revenues, is amplified for the group of female artists. Third, at the top 0.1% of the market artworks by female artists are traded at a discount of 9%. Moreover, the very top 0.03% of the market, where 41% of the revenues are concentrated, are still entirely off limits for women. Overall, we find two glass ceilings for women pursuing an artistic career. While the first one is located at the starting point of a female artist’s career, the second one can be found at the transition into the superstar league of the market and remains yet impermeable. Our study has wide-reaching implications for industries characterized by a superstar effect and a strong concentration of men relative to women.

That is the abstract of a new paper by Fabian Y.R.P. Bocart, Marina Gertsberg, and Rachel A. J. Pownal, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Recently I’ve been enjoying @womensart1, a good way to see interesting artworks that otherwise don’t get so much attention.  And here is my older essay “Why Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts.”

1 Moo cow December 15, 2017 at 2:25 am

How much of art is one piece is objectively better than another, and how much is in the intangibles? Didn’t we just do a long read on Damien Hirst? He’s practically printing money. New Yorker iirc.

My mom was an artist. She would have a lot to say about this topic.

2 Ray Lopez December 15, 2017 at 3:26 am

“This glass ceiling results in a selection mechanism which is manifested in an average premium of 6% for artworks by female artists” – six percent? Seems like statistically significant…noise.

3 Ray Lopez December 15, 2017 at 3:36 am

+ note in the earlier TC paper, from 1996, TC channels his inner Austrian economist (I think TC was more Austrian back then) and does thought experiments and does not rely on data.

4 Anonymous December 15, 2017 at 3:30 am

Cue for SV moguls and assorted billionaires to buy works by female artists, sponsor more female arts programs etc. Given recent hullabaloos around harassment and the constant threat of their disparate impact hiring privileges being revoked, they’ll probably take the hint, and we’ll be blessed with more plaster casts of vaginas.

5 Ray Lopez December 15, 2017 at 11:44 am

Didn’t that famous porn star Jenna-something do that about 15 years ago? She made a fortune, as did the artists behind the “fleshlight”.

6 Falstaff December 15, 2017 at 4:13 am

A better question: Are there any truly great female artists?

7 Art Deco December 15, 2017 at 8:28 am

One known to art historians, perhaps; not to the old Saturday Review constituency. Photography might be an exception.

In music theater, and dance, I think you’re more likely to see feminine accomplishment among performers (e.g Jacqueline duPre or Maria Tallchief) than in creative activity.

In literature, women’s names pop into your head more readily than they do in the performing and studio arts.

8 IVV December 15, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Julie Taymor is a pretty household name, but whether you’d call her an artist or a director is another story.

We can reasonably ask where the next Georgia O’Keeffe or Frida Kahlo is. I’m personally fond of Doris Salcedo and Louise Bourgeois (although the latter has passed as well).

But really, it all comes down to finding a patron who’s good at publicity.

9 Anonymous December 15, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Rosa Bonheur and Artemisia Gentileschi come to mind, and I have seen a handful of other very accomplished female painters and printmakers, but certainly their numbers are insignificant compared to great male artists.

10 Steve Sailer December 15, 2017 at 5:03 am

“the very top 0.03% of the market, where 41% of the revenues are concentrated, are still entirely off limits for women”

The top 0.03% of the modern art market consist of works of arts that billionaires think they would be able to unload on other billionaires at a profit. Being billionaires, and thus usually well above average at the general skill of buying low and selling high, they often are right.

11 chuck martel December 15, 2017 at 6:39 am

Charles Saatchi decides what’s good and how much it’s worth.

12 Reactionary December 15, 2017 at 7:25 am

100 years from now no one will care about basquiat,schnabel or hirst

Maybe anselm kiefer will be more appreciated

13 Art Deco December 15, 2017 at 8:29 am

Robert Hughes despised Schnabel, so I figure he has some value.

14 Dude December 15, 2017 at 5:44 am

Just wait until it comes out that Picasso was sometimes aggressive toward women.

15 chuck martel December 15, 2017 at 6:43 am

Yes, Tracey Emin’s art has inexplicably never reached the value of da Vinci’s.

16 ASher December 15, 2017 at 6:53 am

Did not check the data. But I do wonder how much normative import this particular “glass ceiling” would have. Part of the value of artwork is some subjective evaluation of the artist which legitimately includes identity elements. If collectors have a thing for Japanese watercolors or West African carvings or Indian sculptures, there is a “glass ceiling” for watercolor artists who are not Japanese, or carvers who are not from West Africa, or sculptors who are not from India. That’s the nature of the art market and always has been. I don’t really see anything wrong with it. How is it different if collectors somehow have a preference for male artists – or female ones, for that matter?

If you add the supposition that people may tend to like artists they can identify with, we might find that men prefer men artists and women prefer women artists, which would doesn’t sound particularly sinister to me.

17 rayward December 15, 2017 at 6:55 am

It’s alluded to in several comments: men purchase the really high priced art, like the da Vinci that recently sold for almost $450 million. But we don’t know who purchased the da Vinci, do we? Speculation on the identity of the purchaser has spanned the population of billionaires, from Jeff Bezos to Liu Yiqian. But only one woman: Alice Walton. That’s because there are far more male billionaires than female. What do most billionaires have in common (besides being male)? They owe most of their wealth to rising asset prices. While the number of women working at hedge funds has increased significantly in recent years, it’s still a male-dominated industry, and the women who do work in the industry mostly work for smaller funds (in part because they started their own funds). Then there are the billionaires who come by their wealth by less savory means (less savory than a hedge fund?). How many female billionaires in the oil-rich Arab states? How many female billionaires among Russian oligarchs? Ah, but there is the exception. Guess the exception. That’s right, Chinese female billionaires. There are between 55 and 60 self-made female billionaires in China. No other country comes close (the U.S. comes in second with about 15). China, the future for female world domination (including in the world of art).

18 Beliavsky December 15, 2017 at 7:11 am

“Glass ceiling” is a BS phrase, as Thomas Sowell has explained:

‘To me, the phrase “glass ceiling” is an insult to my intelligence. What does the word “glass” mean, in this context, except that you can’t see it? Yet I am supposed to believe it without evidence because, otherwise, I will be considered a bad person and called names.’

19 drive-by commenter December 15, 2017 at 2:25 pm

“believe it without evidence”

did you even read the original post?

20 Anonymous December 15, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Yes. What is the evidence exactly? That there are five very successful male artists and none of them are women (yet)?

21 Beliavsky December 15, 2017 at 7:19 am

Men predominating at the peak is true of many fields, such as mathematics, science, technology, the composition of classical music, and chess. Why should it be surprising that the same is true of art?

22 Art Deco December 15, 2017 at 8:34 am

Because Nancy Hopkins, who indubitably doesn’t give a rip that 93% of the prison population is male, says it’s all the result of accursed ‘sexism’.

23 Art Deco December 15, 2017 at 8:16 am

Art is masculine. Crafts are feminine.

24 Snowflake Busta December 15, 2017 at 2:11 pm

And Art Deco is both!

25 Hazel Meade December 15, 2017 at 10:30 am

Two possible explanations:
1. Men tend to have more money, and prefer artworks made by men, which naturally cater more to men’s tastes.

2. Men are more visual and like looking at pictures of nude women, or just women in general, so they’re more likely to shell out cash for a painting of a nude women. Whereas women are indifferent to nude males and female artists don’t tend to paint nudes. See also reasons why there is way more visual porn on the net than (say) erotic fiction.

26 Adrian Turcu December 15, 2017 at 1:13 pm

I don’t think abstract art allows for such precise gender specific servicing. The bit about nudes also will only affect a small part of the art market.
Camille Paglia says it’s just sex difference: men are more diverse and extreme in intelligence and capability, so many more thread into art, which is a very risky carrier choice and not unaccompanied by mental instability/ quirkiness, again more prevalent in men.

27 Sure December 15, 2017 at 4:06 pm

One other thing that may be relevant here – desperation. I have met many, many couples where the husband is a doctor/trader/engineer while the wife works in “the arts”. If her financial remuneration is lower, it does not significantly affect household income and she can keep working in the arts part time while raising children. In contrast, every single male artist I have met has worked full time or more on his art. Further if he is not talented enough to earn his keep in promptly leaves the “art” world for something better remunerating (e.g. advertising, graphic design, or even the trades).

I am sure there are counterexamples of trust fund boys or the like who work substantially fewer hours or can afford to stay in with a merely mediocre reception of their work, but I am curios if the data suggests that women are more likely to be part timers or if financial ease is associated with inferior reception in the art world. Likewise, I am curios if there is any difference in the mediums these artists elect to work in? How much of the variation comes from different choices in medium, let alone subject or presentation?

I do not know if any of this is true, but given my experience in medicine I am extremely leery of taking such “glass ceilings” at face value; female docs make less than male docs, but they overwhelming choose to match into the lower remunerating specialties (i.e. female docs tend to like pediatrics, OB/GYN, family med disproportionately while males tend to like rad onc, radiology, and surgery disproportionately).

28 chuck martel December 15, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Tamara de Lempicka

Born in 1899 to Russian aristocrats, Tamara de Lempicka escaped the Bolsheviks by exchanging her body for freedom, dramatically beginning a sexual career that included most of the influential men and women she painted. After burning brightly at the centre of Paris’s artistic circle, she made her way to America in the late 1930s, where she dazzled and seduced the rich and famous of a new continent. Her paintings, like the artist herself, glow with beauty and sexuality. Contemporary critics, however, dismissed her gorgeously stylised portraits and condemned her scandalous lifestyle. A resurgence of interest in her work occurred in the 1980’s, spurred by such celebrity collectors as Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, and Madonna.

29 Covell December 15, 2017 at 10:46 pm

I don’t like to compare artists, but if I did, I would say this: There is something about Mary Cassat that no other impressionist was able to capture (the portraits and the way the background landscapes trail away to her wonderfully personal version of infinity).
Berthe Morisot did rivers and the perspective from a balcony better than any other Impressionist.
Kathe Kollwitz knew how to draw – how to actually put charcoal onto a piece of paper – better than Picasso did.
Lotte Laserstein painted the best group portrait, post-Sargent, that I have ever seen.
And Norwegian women painters from the decades before and after 1900 are heartbreakingly extraordinary.
I could go on with further examples.
That being said, if you want to prattle on about whether men or women are better artists, consider this: the only form of high art that does not involve, generally, an insulting-to-a-true-artist-at-heart apprenticeship with an older artist is poetry, and nobody who understands poetry ever says men are better at it than women (Sappho among the Greeks was as good as it gets, Christina Rossetti was as good an English poet as any other poet of her day, and who cares about poetry in the less poetic languages than Greek and English? The question answers itself). Oil painting, virtuoso musicianship, non-recreational mathematics, “competitive chess” – imagine you have the choice to get really good at one of those things but have the option to live a fulfilling life without being the very very best you can be at one of those pursuits, at the sacrifice of friendships and families – well, if you are a teenage male, in almost any historical age, you probably are thinking you want to be the best you can be, if you are a teenage female, in almost any historical age – you probably don’t think that way.
So in the one field of true art where you don’t have to sacrifice your personal life to be the best, women are equal to men. In the other fields, maybe not so much. This is not a difference between men and women it is a difference between people with differing choices.
All great art is going to be created, anyway, eventually, it is just a question of time.

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