‘Work is seen as a hobby for women’

I Burn For You Project by Sarah van Sonsbeeck, winner of the Theodora Niemeijer Prize.Statue of Sarah van Sonsbeeck

Women have an ambition to become artists. Seventy percent of art school students are women. But in the end, men earn much more, although it should be noted that for the vast majority of artists it is not a fat pot at all. Men earn an average annual income of just under 15,000 euros, for women it is much lower: less than 10,000 euros. Men earn as much as fifty percent more.

Exploratory research

You wouldn’t immediately expect it from this sector, but the pay gap in the visual arts is much wider than elsewhere, according to Women Inc. Together with ABN Amro, it has carried out an exploratory study of gender (in)equality in the art world.

In addition to literature research, the exhibitors have also interviewed people from the art world. It turns out that women are less often represented by a gallery, and therefore they are offered less often at auctions. Less than one in ten works of art at auction are made by a woman. And it also pays half as much.

According to Cultuurmonitor, female artists have to take another job more often than their male colleagues to make ends meet: 26 percent versus 16 percent.

It’s a sad list, says Sander Heithuis from Women Inc. firm. Why do female artists earn so much less? Art is highly subjective, isn’t it?

There is no single reason, says Heithuis. “It’s a complex sum of factors that reinforce and maintain each other.” One is the historical perspective: the famous masters were men after all. This is reflected in the museums, in the galleries of honour, but also in the teaching material at the art academies.

art bibles

Just look at the ‘art bibles’, says Heithuis. In the original versions of The history of art (1961) and Art history (1962) was named zero female artists. “It has been adjusted to 5 percent in later editions, but still.”

Hanna Klarenbeek, curator of Paleis Het Loo, calculated that in the 19th century, in addition to the approximately 6,200 male artists, there were also approximately 1,100 active female artists. “They were there, but they weren’t exhibited, and therefore their works weren’t sold,” says Heithuis.

It seems that women are still bothered by this centuries later, says visual artist Sarah van Sonsbeeck, winner of the Theodora Niemeijer Prize and not involved in the research. “For a male artist, creating art is a job, but for women it is primarily seen as a hobby. It’s a wonderful cliché. With a bias like that, it’s really harder to negotiate amounts.”

Van Sonsbeeck believes that a large part of the problem also lies in the fact that the vast majority of gallerists and museum directors are men. In the art world, men are all about money. “Art is about recognition. Because men decide what art is bought or exhibited, it will primarily be work that they identify with.” Van Sonsbeeck expects that more women’s work will automatically be bought if more women are in top positions of this kind.

More women on boards

It is also one of Women Inc.’s recommendations: more women on boards. There are also bright spots: in ten years, the price of artwork by women has doubled, and women seem to be eligible for art funds just as often.

But there is still much to do, says Heithuis. For example, the sector must free itself from the belief that ‘being an artist requires complete dedication and cannot be combined with caring for a child’. Female artists suffer the most from this, notes Van Sonsbeeck, the brand new mother of a two-month-old son. “I also postponed my pregnancy for quite a while. Because how can I cope with a child? And how should I allocate my time? All my artist friends have a job on the side.”

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