I’ve decided to buy some art. Not just posters from college but framed prints of real artwork. I wanted a sexy, gritty piece made by a female artist. What I found was a whole lotta art made by men, and a lot of patronizing marketing to sell art to women.
Female creators exist, of course, but they don’t get nearly the degree of exposure that men do. When their work is featured, or when art is targeted at women, it’s wrapped up in sexist and condescending marketing. The same marketing that drives lady razor sales and pink beer. When targeting women, art sites still seem to go with the “pink it and shrink it” marketing wisdom. As Fast Company’s Belinda Parmar put it, “take a perfectly decent product, give it a marshmallow Barbie paint job and miniaturize it so it fits perfectly into tiny female hands. Ta da! Female friendly.”
I found the pinkified, Barbie version of art marketing on the “Art For Women” section of Wall Art Prints.com. I had been searching on the site for “women,” hoping to find female artists. I took a gander at Art For Women. The section is mostly flora and fauna (the latter is mostly birds … because women are birds) in pastel hues of pink and blue. There were also intermittent pics of Paris. Paris is, after all, the City of Love. Women and romance, amirite?
Titles of the Art For Women section include “Love and harmony” “Spring blush” and “Purity.” All like a good virgin.
The Art For Women section promises lady tranquility. The “man cave” section of art for men offers a wide variety of paintings from pop art to nature to automobiles to sexy subjects. For women, Wall Art Prints invites us to “Retreat into a space of peace, comfort and nourishment with soft and sassy art for women. Embrace your femininity, find strength in girl power (female art for the win), cultivate creativity and soothe your soul. Go on – you deserve it!” It reads like a yogurt commercial or tampon ad.
I have never been so repelled by marketers targeting me for my gender. I didn’t need the girl version of art. I just wanted good art. For sure, I’ve bought my fair share of Venus/goddess/love/harmony/delicate razors/hair products/lotions/school supplies in pink/purple/glitter/EMOTIONS colors. But art is supposed to exist on a higher plane. It’s supposed to transport you to some other dimension of being, where politics and social status don’t matter, where I don’t have to buy art marketed in the same way low-fat dairy products are.
One of the few female artists on another site, Pretty Portal, is Hannah Chloe. I actually liked her style — sleek brushstrokes with a subdued color palette — but all her subjects are these hot Coachella-looking white women with long hair and feathers. This pumpkin spice-level basic representation of women reeks of the male gaze. If her work was among many pieces by a variety of women artists that would be one thing. But she is one of the few female artists on the site. So I have a hard time being okay with the fact that skinny hot, white Barbie babe is representing art by women. What a cliche.
Chloe’s personal site bio could have been lifted from Art For Women: “These pieces bring the beauty of our souls to life, a female muse at harmony with herself and her surroundings. The paintings explore mindfulness and meditation, with murals and artworks being linked to wellness and retreats. Her unique canvases also offer a calm feminine approach and emotionally-charged contribution to an otherwise male-dominated street art scene.” Women are into harmony and peace. It flows from our periods.
Chloe, like any artist, is within her rights to describe herself and her work in whatever way feels authentic and right for her. It’s just more than a little suspicious that her style is the one making waves on these big sites dominated by men. It feels like what men imagine art by women to be.
The art market is sexist. According to a study published earlier this year, there are multiple glass ceilings stopping women from equal representation in the art world. The first is getting work in galleries: only 13.7 percent of artists represented in galleries in North America and Europe are women. Then, getting from the gallery to the auction block. 15 percent fewer female than male artists make it to auction houses.
Even after they’ve made it to both the auction market and galleries, female artists face greater discrimination than their male peers. Like many realms of discrimination, the barrier to entry is much lower for male artists than women.
Another study found a 47.6 percent gender gap in auction prices for female versus male art. As the researchers wrote, “Women’s art appears to sell for less because it is made by women.”
I’ve figured out why women’s art sells for less. It’s because “art for women” is a thing at all. Like skincare and school supplies, art bought by women is its own category and a lesser one to the main category of simply art. Art for women is a childish, water-down version of art. Heck, I wouldn’t want to pay as much for one of Wall Art Print’s virginal rocks in Paris as a painting of basically anything else.