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Eye of the beholder? Art buyers discount female artists

Patrick Verwijmeren, Pofessor of Corporate Fince at Erasmus School of Economics

A study of more than a million art auction sales across 40 years has revealed that works by women artists attract prices that are nearly 50% lower than those for works by men, on average. Even when auction results for “stars” like Leonardo da Vinci were removed there was still a large discount, the researchers found.

 

“We looked at sales of artworks by 67,000 individual artists. Even when we took away sales over $1 million – the Rembrandts and the Picassos – there was still a 29% discount for female artists,” say the authors, which are Renée Adams from UNSW, Roman Kräussl from Luxembourg School of Finance, Marco Navone from the UTS Business School and Patrick Verwijmeren from Erasmus School of Economics.

“Our results reveal the struggle and cultural bias facing female artists in getting recognition and true compensation for their work,” the authors say. The research examined 1.5 million auction transactions in 45 countries between 1970 and 2013. The authors found a 47.6% price gap between male and female artists across all sales.

To understand the influence of cultural perceptions of gender, the researchers looked at auction prices in conjunction with measures of gender inequality around the world, including the number of women in parliament and women’s enrolment in higher education.

They found that the price gap for female artists was greater in countries and years with greater gender inequality and the price gap decreased as gender inequality decreased, suggesting that cultural attitudes towards women are a key factor.

“The art auction market can have a profound influence on artists’ careers, and art markets are discounting paintings by women on the basis of gender,” say the authors.

To further understand these reasons behind the price difference, the researchers conducted two experiments.

In the first experiment the researchers asked 1000 people to guess the gender of the artist for 10 works, half of which were painted by women, then rate how much they liked the paintings on a scale of 1-10. This allowed them to measure whether perceived gender might affect a person’s appreciation of the work.

The results showed that participants were unable to accurately guess the gender of the artist by looking at the painting. However, artworks perceived to be painted by women were rated lower by participants who are male, affluent and who visit art galleries.

In the second experiment the researchers showed 2000 people a painting with either a male or a female artist’s name randomly assigned to the artwork, and asked them to rate the painting.

To avoid associating fake artist names with real paintings, the researchers ‘created’ the paintings using an artificial intelligence application that converts a photo into a painting.

Most people rated the artworks equally, however one category, wealthy individuals who visit art galleries frequently – those who would typically buy art at auction – gave the painting a lower rating when it was associated with a female name.

“These results reveal the struggle female artists face to have their art valued on equal footing with male artists, and suggest that policies to reduce gender inequality may improve outcomes for female artists,” the authors conclude.

More information

Patrick Verwijmeren is Professor of Corporate Finance at Erasmus School of Economics. His research focuses on the optimal capital structure for businesses, the influences of short sales and hedge funds and recent developments in corporate governance. His main specialism is business financing through convertible bonds.

Click here for the entire article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 2018