The gender price gap prevents women artists from earning less and doing more unpaid work
As a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, Rachel Joanis found it difficult to price her work, especially as she was starting her career after graduating in 2015.
“I would naturally underestimate myself,” says the Toronto artist. “I ended up putting in tons of hours working for different projects and getting very little money at the end.”
It was a chance encounter via Instagram that changed things for Ms. Joanis. One of his followers, the founder of a public relations company in New York, commissioned a job from him and pitched it to other companies looking for illustrators.
“When she referred me to clients, she would say, ‘You should charge this for this project,’” says Joanis. The rates suggested by her mentor were often double the amount originally planned by Ms. Joanis.
Undervalued and undervalued
In the creative industries, women artists often undervalue their work. It’s something that freelance illustrator Nuria Madrenas has come across in her day-to-day work in marketing and communications.
“I was gathering quotes for illustrators living in Toronto for a client,” says Madrenas. “A female artist offered me $200 for a three-hour live event. And a male artist had quoted me $2,000. She says the artists were comparable in experience and style.
Encounters like this prompted Ms. Madrenas to start Tacit, an online gallery for women artists. “It really transpired from this disparity between women and men in the art world,” she says.
A 2021 Price Gap Analysis for Male and Female Artists found that artwork produced by female artists accounted for less than 4% of artwork sales at auction. And the data of National Arts Foundation in the United States indicates that “female artists, art directors, animators and female photographers earn $0.74 for every dollar earned by male visual artists and photographers”.
When new artists join Tacit, Ms. Madrenas often advises them on how to price their art appropriately, which usually means increasing its value.
“Whatever price she may have in her head, I always recommend doubling that,” she says.
Ms Madrenas believes female artists who underestimate themselves are doing ‘a disservice to your fellow female artists, who now feel like they can’t price themselves for what they think they’re worth’ . Accurate pricing is what helps women create long-lasting, sustainable careers from their art, she says.
Do the “unpaid invisible work”
Recognizing the disparity that exists between male and female artists, Annie Briard accumulated countless volunteer hours early in her career as a board member, organizer of art festivals and running a bilingual arts magazine. .
“It was very clear that there was less room for women artists in the art world, especially in the media arts section,” says Ms. Briard, photographer, digital media artist and teacher at the Emily Carr Vancouver University of Art and Design. Doing community service was one way to stand out – something she says men don’t feel pressured to do or need to do as often to be successful.
Ms. Briard says board seats are “overwhelmingly held by artists who identify as women” in the arts organizations she is involved with. “There is a lot of unseen unpaid work being done by women in the arts.”
After about six years of community work to develop her own projects as a photographer, Ms. Briard caught the eye of a gallery owner at Joyce Yahouda Gallery in Montreal, where Ms. Briard began her artistic career.
“I don’t know if I could have gotten to this place if I hadn’t done all this work in the service of other artists,” she says.
Historical barriers related to gender in the arts profession may partly explain why this gap still exists. But there are reasons for hope. Ms. Briard says galleries are increasingly looking for greater diversity in the artists they represent, as are museums.
At Venice Biennale 201953% of artists participating in the World Art Exhibition were women, up from 33% in 2015. And a 2018 Survey of American Art Museum Demographics by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that 61% of museum staff were women. However, the highest management position in a museum is more likely to be held by a man.
Using dollars to drive change
Changing the way female art is valued and how much female artists earn relative to males is no small feat. “The art world is a very exaggerated mirror of society,” says Ms. Briard. She believes that major societal issues should be addressed for the gender gaps in art to close.
But there are things art fans can do to help. When buying artwork, regardless of your budget, “use your money to talk about the kinds of practices you want to support and what you’d like to see more of,” Ms. Briard says. Show your support by attending shows, galleries and organizations that feature art by women.
“[Organizations] are watching the numbers closely: how many people are coming, how many people are getting engaged,” she says. Sharing the works of emerging artists on Instagram or other social media platforms is also a valuable act. “It’s free, easy to do, and has a lot more impact than people think.”
Finally, if you see a gallery or museum that lacks female representation, let them know you are concerned.
“Send an email or write in their commentary book,” Ms. Briard says. “Just ask this question, ‘Hey, why weren’t there any female artists on this show?'”
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