Redressing the gender imbalance in the art world

Jonas Almgren launched Artfinder in 2013 to help artists make a living out of their art. The online marketplace connects 9,000 artists with more than 500,000 art lovers around the world. What Almgren didn’t expect to happen was to take steps toward redressing the gender imbalance in the art world.

“We’ve known for a long time that our artists have a pretty much 50/50 gender balance, which is unusual in the art world,” Almgren says. And a recent report by Artfinder has uncovered a stark difference in gender representation between the high-end art world and its own marketplace.

“We were hoping that maybe what we can do is point out the sexism that is prevalent in the high-end but also celebrate the fact that actually modern technology and sites like Artfinder can change all that,” he says. 

“Suddenly you can have an equal chance regardless of gender, for all artists. It's fantastic to see. There's no reason to believe that women artists would be worse artists – and in fact they're not. They are selling just as well, as long as you make the playing field even.

“We want to give all artists a chance. That's how we started. We realised that for every successful artist – that is, with a gallery – there are probably 100 other artists that are just as talented but for one reason or another they didn't get into a gallery. We said, let's allow all artists an equal chance for success.”

The wider art world, however, tells a different story. Just one of the top 100 lots sold at auction in 2015 was by a woman. None of the top 10 richest living artists are women. In 2004, when MoMA opened its new building with a reinstallation of the permanent collection spanning the years 1880 to 1970, just four per cent of the 410 works on display were by women – by April 2015 the situation hadn’t improved much, still only seven per cent of displayed works were by women.

Read more: What does the future hold for UK creative industries?

Almgren is passionate about seeing this change and Artfinder certainly seems to be a step in the right direction. “When I go out and meet some of our artists they come up to me and they say, ‘You changed my life,’” he says. “But what I came to realise is that for an artist to sell even one piece for a little bit of money, it makes all the difference because it validates that you are an artist. If you're an artist that has only sold to family and friends and then suddenly you have a buyer in Hong Kong that you have never met before and he is willing to pay hundreds of pounds for your artwork, it validates the fact that your art has a value - that what you are doing is valuable for people, not just your friends and family. When we get that kind of feedback from artists we know we are making a difference in their lives.”

Female artists on Artfinder are in fact selling more art than men, faster and for a greater total value. According to their analysis, women sell nearly 40 per cent more art, selling it 16 per cent faster than men, and for £1 million of art that men sell, women sell £1.16 million.

But why is that? Almgren suggests it could have something to do with the price of the artwork – male artists tend to overestimate how much their work is worth, he says. “We advise artists on how to price their artwork but it seems men are maybe just a little full of themselves and try to believe they are worth more than the market can take. They tend to price themselves out of the market and maybe they are less willing to accept that maybe my artwork can't be sold for £2,000, maybe I have to price it at £600.”

Female artists on the other hand, seem to be getting this right according to Almgren. “Maybe the way to turn this is that women are less secure in themselves but it certainly seems to work in terms of pricing it correctly for the market,” he says. “If women artists were pricing their work too low it would mean they would make less money but they don't so they price it right to optimise how much money they make. They're good business people I think. They are objective, they approach it very objectively and they are not full of themselves, they are not full of these ideas of alpha male artists, they are in it to be successful artists and they want to sell.”

Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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