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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — If You’re a Female Artist


by Gail Sachson 24 Sep 2008

Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee A woman artist, lets call her Jane, is contemplating changing her name to ‘Joe’ in order to make more sales. At the Texas Sculpture Association Symposium last weekend, Jane complained that too often when collectors […]

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Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee

A woman artist, lets call her Jane, is contemplating changing her name to ‘Joe’ in order to make more sales. At the Texas Sculpture Association Symposium last weekend, Jane complained that too often when collectors find out that the heavy, masculine-looking sculpture she does is made by a woman, they don’t want it. Why is that?

Another artist moaned that she is tired of the uncomfortable feelings and wolf-whistles she hears when scouring junk yards, of not being taken seriously at lumber yards or when ordering steel. Why is that?

And yet another spoke of the fear she and her female artist friends have of pricing their work too high – because they are women. Ridiculous.

Eleven years ago, the cover of Art News proclaimed “Women in Art, We’ve Come a Long Way,” then at the very bottom of the page, added the word maybe.”  Well, maybe we haven’t come a long way – yet!

Tonight at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, I will be on a panel with three well-respected Dallas gallery directors to discuss the status, the popularity, the reputation and careers of women artists. The directors are Cris Worley of Pan American Projects, Cheryl Vogel of Valley House Gallery, Marty Walker of the Marty Walker Gallery and Nancy Whitnack of Conduit. We will discuss:

Is there a bias for or against art made by women?  A media bias?  A collector bias? A curator bias? A gallery bias? Is there no bias at all?

Do feminist statements sell?

How many female artists do they represent and how were they selected?

What must Dallas women artists do to gain more recognition, show more, sell more and have their work priced fairly?

Or is it all about quality, and we have nothing more to discuss, just have some cookies and go home to make art? Join us at 6:30 tonight.

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  • Interesting… I know that in my ‘regular day-job’ in the business world, I get more response from emails when the receiver thinks I’m a guy. When I receive replies addressed to my last name (Michael), the tone and results are definitely different than when they come to Erin.

    It’s frustrating and sad (and, unfortunately, not surprising) if this spills over into the art community. When I make things to sell, my name is on it, but I don’t have any photos on my website of myself, partly because of the concern of gender-bias.

    I have no idea why some people get hung-up on the ‘parts’ an artist has. Most of me says that if a person or gallery thinks there is a difference, that their problem, but when you need to sell to these same people to make a living, what’s a chick to do?

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    You think you’re kidding? My artist/activist mother, among other things a trail blazer at the Dallas Morning News in the 1950s as book review and commentary writer (who discounts ‘it’s in the genes’) was forced to use a male pseudonym when she reviewed a ‘controversial’ book like To Kill a Mockingbird’. (Mentioned in my own KERA commentary that aired last fall linked below)

    Mother was (as are so many women) far smarter than her male bosses who insisted that women ‘cannot be taken seriously’. She wrote (when forced to use a ‘male’ name) under ‘Brooke Clarke’ Of course Dallas women recognized that no man spells ‘Brook’ with an ‘e’. But this went over her publisher’s head.

    As a boy raised by a feminist activist mother who had been raised by a suffragette, I never went through the ‘clueless male’ stage that still afflicts many of my gender peers. That served me well when, years later, I reported exclusively to an amazing female CEO, Neiman Marcus’ Karen Katz, later profile interviewed by the fiercely brilliant Lee Cullum on her delicious KERA 13 show ‘CEO’.

    http://publicbroadcasting.net/kera/news/content/1137610.html

    • I believe this perceived “inequality” in the art business is a load of horse manure. In my experience over the past 17 years specifically, I have seen an equal number of women and men garner the same attention and/or success with art at various levels and similarly with failures. The fact of the matter is most people can scarecly predict what a gallery owner will want to show, nor what a buyer will want to purchase. The reality in my opinion is that one’s sex has nothing to do with the fact that it’s tough getting into galleries, tough finding buyers, and tough dealing with the media to get attention to one’s artwork. That’s just life- no bias.

      Feminist statements are also tough to sell, as is any other art that makes a statement. Art with a minimal amount ‘to say’ sells more readily than art with a statement or point.

      For Dallas women artists to gain more recognition, better pricing, and show/sell more, all they have to do is work harder just like the rest of us.

      I seem to sell more art than most artists, and its all about work. Work to excersize the talent, work to get the art seen, work to support the galleries, the community, and work to get the art sold.

      …I am ready for my cookies now.

  • One way to address this problem is to start early teaching children that women artists are as relevant as men. To that end, La Reunion TX has teamed with the Girls Scouts and DADA to create meaningful connections between artists and high school girls.

    Art Chicas Unidas, as the program is called, is looking for artists to participate. The application deadline is Tuesday. More information here:
    http://www.lareuniontx.org/artchicas2008.html