How the gender imbalance in the art industry can be addressed

a career in artThe Scottish Gallery has been a champion of women artists consistently for decades, and not just to fulfil any quota or gender equality ‘policy’ – we have championed women because the work was valid.

Today there are still too many historical institutions who are still to appoint women leaders. I believe that the landscape is at an interesting point of departure and the next ten years should herald many changes in equality and diversity. For centuries, the notion of The Genius had been restricted to men, too often used as an excuse for bad behaviour, a bohemian badge of honour for which womankind has carried the burden.  Many found opposition in the narrative of art history and faced difficulty in gaining recognition, but there have always been women artists.

Women artists produced art, which bore the trace of their experiences and personal expression, of equal merit to any male counterpart.  But, the professional occupation was male-dominated and women’s art was, for the most part, perceived as not valid or amateur.  For centuries.

The history of art is a rich field for rediscovery of distaff talent overlooked, from Artemisia Gentileschi to Gwen John.  Many are now being reappraised and celebrated for their genius, for their determination to work and compete in a male dominated profession, for their persistence in a world which for too long saw the female role in the atelier restricted to muses, models and mistresses.

Aspiration and the will to create does not entitle any artist to success; innovation and talent has to be translated into a career, enabled by long term support.  The various Women’s Guilds and associations did much to help confidence and provide a platform for women, but commercial and critical success in the wider art world would prove a real measure of gender equality.  Galleries are tastemakers: championing and funding artists, introducing them to collectors.  The opportunity of exhibiting work and the possibility of a solo exhibition to express the artist’s ideas and artistic practice and personal expression was what The Scottish Gallery offered.

Our independent gallery made it normal for women artists to have a career after their fine art training.  The Scottish Gallery was attractive because artists could show amongst their peers irrespective of gender or other considerations: we have exhibited hundreds of women artists, in many disciplines.

The Gallery has enjoyed long term relationships with women artists including Anne Redpath, Elizabeth Blackadder and Victoria Crowe.  Sometimes the story is long and successful and sometimes it is more poignant – the promise of potential and output is cut short.

Joan Eardley died aged only forty-two but in her life she transformed the daily realities of the slums of Townhead and the streetlife of Rottenrow into striking avant-garde painting.  This summer, we will mark the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth with a major exhibition of paintings and drawings, Joan Eardley | Centenary. Having promoted and celebrated her genius throughout her lifetime, this exhibition, which coincides with the Edinburgh International Festival, will highlight her as one of Scotland’s greatest talents.

In June, we will host an exhibition of works by Kate Downie, Between Seasons. Downie is one of the most subtle and persuasive colourists of her generation. Her work a truth and authority, a right to transport us to the unfamiliar or provide an urgent reminder of where we have been.  The astonishing new body of works in Between Seasons includes paintings, drawings and prints.  A series of ten tree paintings form the heart of this exhibition. Each painting can be viewed through 180 degrees, with bottom and top image transected by a central horizon line, forming a mirror-like reflection.

Supporting women artists and respecting the value of their art through solo exhibitions over many decades has been incredibly important in ensuring women’s art is valued in parity with their male counterparts. The highest echelons of the art world are still male dominated, and many women in crucial support roles await a place at the forefront. I am lucky to have worked with positive male and female role models and co-workers, and I am grateful for their support.

About the author

Christina JansenChristina Jansen has been the Managing Director of The Scottish Gallery since 2016 and a Director since 2008.  She initially studied Industrial Design at Manchester Metropolitan University and completed an MPhil in the Decorative Arts from The University of Glasgow.  Christina first specialised in contemporary applied arts and specialises in post war Scottish and British contemporary art.  Her focus for The Gallery, which was established in 1842 and is Scotland’s largest, oldest, independent art gallery is to present a relevant and evolving programme of contemporary painting alongside vintage and historic exhibitions whilst championing international applied arts.  She has produced numerous publications on contemporary art, post war art and the applied arts.

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