Why Do Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts?

Given the recent brouhaha over Larry Summers, I have posted my 1996 essay "Why Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts."  Here is one brief excerpt:

Eleanor Tufts (1974), in her highly regarded book on women artists, presented biographies of 22 of the most prominent female artists in Western history.  Biographical research reveals that of the first 14 painters surveyed, 12 had artist fathers.

Women with artists in the family had opportunities to receive training, critical feedback, artistic materials, and studio space.  Without strong family connections, women had few means of painting at all…Male artists, who had superior resources and superior access to outside training, were not generally sons of artists…most prominent male artists received formal instruction from an art school or a private teacher.  If the development of male artists had been restricted to those who had learned from their families, the artistic record of males would be far poorer than what we observe.

The likelihood of having an artist father, however, declines precisely when training opportunities open up; women then achieve greater success in the nineteenth century art world.  The paper also finds that women have achieved much greater representation in "Naive art," (which does not require formal training), watercolors (which involve lower capital costs), and that women have done far better in painting and photography than in sculpture or architecture (the latter two involve higher capital costs and require more cooperation from other people).  Leading female painters tend to have been childless, although the remarkable Rachel Ruysch had ten kids.  In the textile arts, which are often complements to child-rearing, women have a superior record to that of men.

Read the whole thing; I am arguing that remediable external obstacles have prevented women from achieving close to their maximum potential.  I am not trying to argue there are no intrinsic differences between the sexes.


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