Art World Prejudice: Sex, Race, Age…
In the recent past it was not uncommon to see only two solo shows by artists who happened to be female for every dozen solo shows to open in New York. Women exploring painting as the focus of their artwork stood even less of a chance of receiving a solo show compared to men. I doubt the situation has changed that much over the years. It troubles me that in the mainstream art world-- often noted for being liberal in thought-- such clear prejudice based on gender continues to dominate. This veiled prejudice fosters the idea that art is a man’s game-- and shoves that mode of thought into the psyche of the viewing public.
This form of prejudice based on gender within the art world can be observed in mainstream gallery artist rosters, magazine and blog lists of the art worlds “most powerful”, and in the media as a whole. It leaves one asking why in 2010 artists who happen to be female often are stamped as ‘female artist’, ’female painter’, and other gender-specific descriptions that are never used when describing male artists. It is almost as if the people who describe artists who happen to be female in this way are giving them a pat on the back for their attempts. It is insulting.
Prejudice within the art world does not stop there. Race also becomes an issue. For example, you never read an article about an artist starting with so-and-so is a “Caucasian artist from…” to describe an artist who happens to be white. That said, if an artist is from any other racial background you can almost be assured that race will become a descriptor for that artists efforts-- “African American artist from…”, “Hispanic artist from…”.. the list goes on. While it is true that race can define an artists visual message-- if that is his or her direction-- I don’t think it is a sound choice to use race to define an artist in general.
The issue of age is apt to pop up in the fray of art world prejudice. Age is arguably the most offensive way to define-- or should I say label?-- an artist. I say that because the age factor often meshes with the two forms of prejudice I mentioned above. For example, most art critics, gallerists, and artists will tell you-- if they are honest-- that most 30-something exhibiting artists who happen to be female are near career- end. That decision is not by choice-- it is fueled by age and gender alone in association with the prejudice of art dealers representing them.
After all, there is a double standard within the context of the art world-- artists who happen to be male in the same stage of life are often viewed as coming into their own. Sadly, I don't think the majority of art dealers, curators, and art critics realize that they are creating-- or helping to maintain-- a cloud of prejudice over the art world. It is almost as if it has become the status quo.
If you are not an artist who happens to be white, male, and our past the age of 35 it is likely that your career is playing a game of Russian roulette with three bullets that are locked and loaded. I say that because the descriptors involved with those three factors often are reduced to art market trends and fads-- labels that artists don’t necessarily want for themselves but get stamped with anyway. This prejudice is an ugly stain in what is otherwise one of the most liberal thinking aspects of our culture.
I for one feel that it is time for art critics and the media in general to drop descriptions based on gender, race, and age when describing an artist unless that information is vital to the artists work. Gender, race, and age should not come before what an individual does when writing about said individual. Yet it happens all the time-- and most of the major art publications have long been guilty of this. Who knows how many artists could have continued to shine had it not been for these three factors. These descriptors breed prejudice no matter how you try to warrant it. It is time to look at the artwork and what artists have to offer instead of being so focused on their gender, race, and age.
Take care, Stay true,