Although women have made great strides in the art industry, statistics still show men dominating the professional world. Local Sacramento women in art have been pushing against this trend.
According to a study by Artnet, only about 11 percent of pieces acquired by major museums were made by women between 2008 and 2018.
While women hold the majority in college art courses, their numbers fall off as the years progress and men are far ahead in the competitive market. Art made by men tend to do better at auctions, museums, and galleries.
When Linda Gelfman, a Fine and Applied Arts professor at American River College, visited the SFMoMa in 2016 after they reopened for the first time in three years, she was disappointed in what she saw.
“They did a huge remodel from like three stories to ten stories. I started at the top [and went] all the way down [and] there were like three freaking women artists in the whole d*mn new museum. I was infuriated,” Gelfman explained.
Charlotte Bruins, the executive editor of In Other Worlds, told the NY Times that often times museums view female artists as more of a “risk” and would rather prefer to feature men who have garnered more name-recognition.
Additionally, according to Artnet News and In Other Worlds, “the market for art by women is not only smaller, it is also disproportionately concentrated on a few artists.” The top five female artists make up about 40 percent of women’s auction sales while the top five male artists make up about 8 percent of men’s auction sales.
However, no matter how discouraging the numbers are, Gelfman and our other local artists refuse to give in.
“We just don’t get the recognition and it’s frustrating, but nothing’s going to stop me from making my art,” Gelfman said.
Gelfman’s work consists of ceramic and fiber pieces. Her first installation, “Worn and Reborn” was displayed at Kaneko Gallery and discusses female sexuality. “It’s all figurative work […] about the human condition and how we relate to each other.”
Slowly our female artists today are turning the tide. When Gelfman was an art student, she didn’t have any female instructors. That was one of the reasons why she wanted to go into teaching herself. She is now able to be the female role model that she had wished she had for her students.
“You’ve got to pay it forward and you’ve got to help those you believe in. I’m so amazed [by this] younger generation. I am so amazed. These women who come into my classrooms […] are just going for it — just their strength and their will and their intelligence. ”
Arts education is also undergoing a shift as academia no longer solely centers the white male. While giving women today the credit they are due is immensely important, we cannot forget to honor the women of years past.
“We are discovering that there were more women [in art] than we thought there were, but our history neglected them,” said Elaine O’Brien, a professor of Modern & Contemporary Art at Sacramento State.
However, some people are resisting this change because they prefer a version of art history that simply prioritizes the artists who have contributed to and influenced the art world the most, regardless of gender. They see these changes as desperate searches for female artists just for the sake of including women.
O’Brien acknowledges this argument, but encourages people to think a little further.
“The question of influence is really important, but [so is the question of] who was influenced.” Often art history features men because the field only considers which artists have influenced men the most — the artists that have contributed to male art history.
“It’s structural patriarchy,” she explained.
In her teaching, O’Brien strives to include all types of people, but she is not actively seeking certain identities just to include them. Rather she is seeking out many perspectives from all gender, races, and geographies because “every individual has something to say.”
Vi Malone, a local part-time artist, creates work depicting feminine energy. Her pieces can range from topics like mental health to sexuality.
“More women need to come together and [share] our experiences […] with the world. I think a lot of us are silenced because […] we can’t really speak our minds and speak our hearts and a lot of the stuff is hidden.”
She eventually wants to open her own studio where she can teach children to express themselves through art.
Evan Dee San Juan is a mixed-media artist who is becoming a prominent leader in the community. She is currently organizing a photo-zine featuring local artists and their stories called “Ink Between the Lines.”
When she reflected on her experience as a female artist she identified a “weird unspoken animosity that some male artists have against female artists that try to take a leadership role.”
San Juan also noted that like women in any other industry, female artists get a lot of comments about the way they look.
“I’ve heard people tell me all my life that ‘Oh you’re not going to get very far looking like that,’”
These stories show that the art world is far from where it ought to be; however they also show the resilience and determination of female artists.
“We have to keep pushing and make sure there’s no backtracking,” O’Brien concludes.