Women in Art

“This is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.”

It’s amazing to think this was said about a woman’s artwork only half a century ago (especially as a compliment). About Lee Krasner’s  work too, the wife of Jackson Pollock, both prominent abstract artists. Krasner is just one example of many women who have been belittled or underrepresented in the art world.

In acknowledgement of International Women’s day I thought I would explore the progress that female artists have made over the years and bring awareness to the inequality that continues today.

Women face significant disadvantages in the world, economically and socially, and have for hundreds of years. Specifically in art, women have generally been considered muses or inspiration, serving as subjects for male artists, rather than being recognized or judged fairly for any talent they possess.

For example, in 1723, Dutch painter Margareta Haverman was expelled from the Académie Royale when a painting she submitted was judged too good to have been done by a woman (example of her work previous to that below).

A Vase of Flowers by Margareta Haverman, 1716

The negative repercussions of female artists’ work have discouraged many women and explain why there are so few in the history books. In my Art History course, we haven’t gone over any female artists. I almost didn’t notice until now, but it’s true, halfway through the semester and not a single woman’s work yet. Nearly every piece has had a woman in it, so it’s obvious they were a part of the art community, but it’s clear women were not encouraged to create art themselves, or at least not celebrated for it.

Granted we’ve mostly been discussing the Renaissance, when dowries and hoop skirts were popular and women had extremely limited freedom and rights in general. Surprisingly, though, while we no longer need to trade livestock or money in exchange for our hand in marriage (usually), women artists are still significantly underrepresented in fine arts.

Similar to how International Women’s day brings attention to the inequalities suffered by women in today’s society, an organization called the Guerilla Girls  highlights these and others through art (see picture below).

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 by Guerrilla Girls
Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 Guerrilla Girls

This group of female artists and art professionals has helped re-frame the question “Why haven’t there been more great women artists in Western history?” to instead ask “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists throughout Western history?”

I’ll leave you pondering that question, and I hope this post has inspired you to pay more attention to the female artists you come across and pause to give them their due recognition (or even a little more to account for lost times).


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