Good art by women is cheaper

A rose painted by another name would cost more. In a new paper*, four academics show that art made by women sells for lower prices at auction than men’s, and suggest that this discount has nothing to do with talent or thematic choices. It is solely because the artists are female.

The authors used a sample of 1.9m transactions in art auctions across 49 countries in the period from 1970 to 2016. They found that art made by women sold at an average discount of 42% compared with works by men. However, auction prices can be distorted by a few famous artists whose output is perceived as extremely valuable. If transactions above $1m are excluded, then the discount falls to 19%.

…the researchers used a computer programme to generate paintings and randomly assign the results to artists with male or female names. They then asked participants to rate the paintings and ascribe a value. The experiment found that affluent individuals (those most likely to bid at auctions) attributed a lower value to works which the programme assigned to a woman. Clearly, this gap was unrelated to the artistic merit of the picture.

I don’t quite think that shows (non-statistical) discrimination, perhaps more convincing is this:

The average discount applied to the work of a given female artist was lowest in countries where women were more equal. (There are some exceptions to the rule, such as Brazil, where women’s art was highly rated.)

The good news is that the female discount has fallen over time. For transactions under $1m, the study calculated, the discount has dropped from 33% in the 1970s to 8% after 2010.

If you not wealthy and wish to collect art, buy textiles, they are much cheaper and very often the creators are women rather than men.  They are not as a whole less aesthetically valuable than paintings, except perhaps for paintings at the very very highest levels.  But within painting, prices for Gwen John vs. Augustus John have been in parity for some while now, same with Frida Kahlo and her male contemporaries, or Natalia Goncharova vs. her peers, the latter I check on a regular basis in fact I was just perusing them today.

Here is The Economist source piece.  Here is the original research., “Is gender in the eye of the beholder? Identifying cultural attitudes with art auction prices”, by Renée Adams, Roman Kräussl, Marco Navone and Patrick Verwijmeren.


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