Work by female artists has traditionally sold for less than pieces by men. But as the gap closes, some art collectors have spied a profit-making opportunity.
Artworks by men are priced about 42 percent higher than artworks by women. That’s the findings from a new research paper, which looked at around 2 million art sales in auction houses all over the world during the last half a century. They also looked at why this was the case, and basically concluded that the art world is just really rather sexist. But it seems to be getting better, and that’s good news for both female artists and art collectors who are looking to make a few bob.
Before making their conclusions, the researchers checked to see if the price difference could be explained by something other than gender discrimination. Firstly, they looked to see if female artists are more likely to use subjects, styles or materials that buyers generally found less appealing. The answer was no. (In fact, female artwork which included stereotypically ‘feminine’ themes like flowers were more highly valued than normal.)
They then explored whether women just produce worse art (in the eyes of buyers) than men. That answer was also no. Not only can people not tell the gender of the artist when shown works they’re not familiar with, they will value a piece of artwork lower if they are told it was created by a woman, even when it was actually created by a genderless AI programme. All this suggests the bias is against women, not women’s art.
That means if societal sexism was shrunk or eliminated, the price gap between male and female-created artworks would also disappear. And there’s evidence that this is already happening. Female-created artworks were discounted four times more in 1970s auctions sales than in post-2010 ones. And the price gap between artworks is generally smaller when auctions take place in countries with better gender equality. Assuming the world continues to become more feminist, this trend creates a money-making opportunity for art dealers. By buying women’s work now, when it’s still undervalued, they can sell it on later at a profit.
Read our explainer on: the gender pay gap.