Bias and Prejudice in the Art World

Two recent discussions have made me think about the dark, unseemly side of the art world.

Nanci Erskine, Orphaned
©Nanci Erskine, Orphaned. Oil on canvas, 20 x 18 inches. Used with permission.

Deep Thought Thursday

Choose your beef.
Is there a prejudice against artists over 40 who are seeking galleries?
Have you ever felt as if your gender kept you from certain opportunities?
Have you ever encountered racism (or what felt like racism) by members of the art establishment?

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51 thoughts on “Bias and Prejudice in the Art World”

  1. I have no doubt that all three of these isms exist. (I also think that ‘lookism’ or fataphobia has a pretty strong place in at least the high end art world. How many large-sized female artists do you see getting shows).
    In most places the % of artists in various identity groups occur in the same numbers as they appear in the local population. So, if 51% of the general population is female you can guess that 51% of the artists are female. If you live in a community that is 25% Asian and 25 % African American and 25% Hispanicm an 5% Native American, then artists from those groups are likely to be present in the same numbers.
    Its been a while, at least a decade, since I saw this study done, but there was a study in the 90’s that showed that when art works by professional artists were blind juried (the jurors didn’t know that age, race, or gender of the artists) the works selected tended to be chosen with the same percentage of representation as were present in the applicants, which also reflected the % of the local population. In a blind juried setting the jurors ended up choose artists that were completely representative of the pool. Without a blind jury the % of women and people of color represented went down pretty dramatically.
    I always look to see if shows represent artists in the same numbers as the population in which they occur.
    Back in the early 90’s artist Howardina Pindell did a painstaking count of representation of artists of color and women in the major galleries and museum collections in New York and the results were damning. I’d love to see similar studies today. I would predict some improvement but still short of true representation.

  2. victoria pendragon

    Here’s another interesting twist on discrimination…my work focuses on the energy of the body/bodies….part of that is using the metaphor of “the goddess” for various aspects of being female. Some are very light hearted, some very serious, and almost none make it into shows in this very Christian area despite the fact that they are purely metaphorical. Same goes for my Yogis & Yoginis series…again, all about energy but widely misunderstood around here.

  3. I’ve been wondering for a long time if being into your senior years could be a detriment to getting gallery representation for an artist who is basically “emerging”. I’d be interested in what others have experienced. Aside from Grandma Moses, are senior artists gaining galleries? I’m 68, and this is something I wonder about every day.

    1. victoria pendragon

      I’m 65, Karen…and only recently have I begun to wonder about this but in general, I don’t let it concern me. I figure if the work carries enough weight or is perfect for a venue, then it’ll go. It seems to me that the art itself trumps age because – and I could be totally deluded – there are and always have been a great many older artists. Some have even been ‘discovered’ when they were older.

  4. Unfortunately, I have seen gender based discrimination for many years, starting from the ground up, the general public. Ages ago people used to come up to my now late husband at shows and enthuse over my work, complementing HIM for HIS great skill.
    In response to that repeated behavior and on the advice of a well known male western artist, I started signing my paintings with my first initials and last name. That ended when I had a nationally best selling work of history and art and my photo (then slim and attractive) was plastered on newspaper pages all over the country and I appeared (as myself with the work) on QVC.
    Today, the unfortunate public discrimination continues, almost to the point that with some people I know my now gray hair and weight at age 62 is a sales deterrent to some, in addition to gender. At one point, the opposite was true. My appearance may have helped – which it shouldn’t. One young male whose talent is comparable to mine draws three times the price my work does, though I’m probably the most highly collected female artist in our area.
    The most astounding thing that rankles — even though my paintings are clearly signed Ellen Rice and the gallery name is The Ellen Rice Gallery, people come up to my male gallery assistant, Duane, and complement HIM on HIS paintings. His response is usually a highly arched eyebrow and the question, “Do I really look like an Ellen?”
    But then there’s one better. During a gallery debut of my new works a year or so ago a WOMAN!!!!! asked me, “This Ellen Rice isn’t really a woman is she? (Look of disbelief.) I mean, a woman can’t paint like this.” To which, I nicely replied, “I’m Ellen, and yes, I did paint these, and yes, a woman certainly can paint like this.” She argued with me, “I just don’t believe it,” once again repeating, now indignantly, “A woman can’t paint like this!” She walked off.
    How do you reverse discrimination of this sort coming from the base line, customers, up?

    1. You reverse the discrimination by doing exactly what you are doing- owning your own gallery and showing that women can make art just as well as men.
      What really struck me in your post was how sorry I feel for the lady who thinks there are things that women can’t do. What a shame to be bound by such self-imposed limitations on what you think you can achieve in life.
      You are the example that breaks down those beliefs!

    2. Well done Ellen and well said Kelley!
      Years ago a painting teacher advised me that if I wanted to be considered a “serious” artist I should NEVER mention being a mother! She said NO ONE would take me seriously! How pathetic…although possibly more accurate than I care to believe.

  5. A couple of years ago I decided to read-up on how to collect art. I was thinking of focusing on this topic in my blog and learn a lot in the process. You know, stuff I could pass on to my own clients and such. I stopped dead in my tracks when I read in one of the books I was researching from the library that collectors were not advised to purchase works from older artists. I think the best age to begin collecting from an artist is when the *artist* is in their 20s. Galleries do not like to promote older artists work because they will die sooner and not have the chance to grow their body of work enough for a good collection ($$$). I am still in mourning and pretty much gave up artwork after reading that. I don’t know why.

    1. Ironically, when I was in my 20s, I was told by an internationally collected Western artist that my work was fantastic, but that unfortunately it probably wouldn’t catch on until I had some gray hair and experience under my belt.
      The only thing I can think is that if you are a true artist, your art will speak no matter who “you” are and what you look like and how long you have left on the planet.
      It’s also said that your work will be worth more when you’re dead, and many people believe that. So logic would tell people the older the artist the sooner their art will skyrocket in value and therefore it’s a good investment.

    2. That *is* ironic! My thinking about being an older artist with gray hair was the same as yours. That’s why I thought my topic was going to be so much fun and it went quickly down in flames. Perhaps it is time for me to check those books out again and write about it anyway.

    3. I try not to get too hung up in other people’s opinions. It bogs you down. Reading others’ opinions is a good way to procrastinate (another topic) on your own art! Now into the studio I go…..

    4. victoria pendragon

      So…back in the 80’s, my wasband and I were working as a collaborative artist. We had some gallery representation but weren’t making nearly enough from our work to live on. At the time we had a verrrrry long last name, having hyphenated our last names when we married and my last name had already been hyphenated so we had a double hyphenated name. (We marketed under Victoria + Dodd). At any rate, I became ill with a fatal, incurable illness (not so much, as it turned out) and in order to fool the universe – and also because we knew that the works of deceased artists generally brought in more money, we legally changed our last name to…Dead!
      As far as selling more art went, it didn’t work but that may have been mostly because I was so devastated by the disease and afterwards spent years concentrating on healing my body…but I did live and that’s been very cool! LOL!

  6. This is something I have been thinking about, as a almost 42-year-old emerging artist who is also female and fat. I’ve had some success certainly regionally and have started showing beyond as well, and if there is prejudice I have not encountered it personally, at least not that I am aware of.
    I’d like to think that the quality of the artwork we produce do trump the factors we’re discussing, but I am sure that is not always the case. I remain yet optimistic and confident in what I do, and know that I project a positive energy that with at least some people does trump my femaleness and my fatness. (I’ve been told by a few people, and also judge it based on the interactions I have with people, from collectors to curators.) My ultimate goal is to show regularly in New York, where I know things a LOT different, to say the least… but I don’t know, I think there is room for everyone. Fat, thin, male, female, ugly, pretty, black, white, brown, etc.
    Does that sound naive?

    1. victoria pendragon

      I hope it doesn’t sound naive, Amy, as that’s my view as well.
      And, of course, the mental baggage we carry with us – or don’t – also affects how we are perceived.

    2. That’s very true, Victoria – which is why I try to exude confidence and also a real sense of camaraderie. I get hugs all the time! Ha ha.
      Another thing I forgot to mention is that I look much younger than I actually am, which I am sure is helpful in general; however, I make no secret about my age. I think it is ridiculous that is a factor in anything.

  7. One of the reasons that I am an artist is BECAUSE of the “ism’s”. I think you have to look at this from a whole different perspective.
    BECAUSE there is some form of prejudice or expectation or typecasting, it’s my role as a good artist, to question and create work that blows that “ism” away into the realm of irrelevance.
    As I get older, I get less “mad” about the fact that it exists, and opt for getting creatively “even”. The work will speak for itself…I don’t want to hear another excuse from anyone that it’s not happening because…..”I’m a minority….I’m old…I’m young…..I’m not the right whatever.”
    Got my big girl artist panties on!

    1. I love your attitude! That’s the only way to beat it. In Ancient Africa, know who ruled the Nubian empire? Women. And I’ll bet age was revered, too, just as it is the farther you get from Hollywood USA. I’m starting to think from the above posts that the paradigm has shifted in the art world to reflect the nonsensical reverence for youth that has taken over the fashion industry, films, tv…. The buck stops here.

  8. Wow! Important topic! Thanks for suggesting it. Perhaps my comment is off topic…. I would also wonder if there is a “fiber-ism” or a “quilt-ism” or a “bead-ism” as well, from personal experience. I wish I had a nickel (OK, $100!) for every time I have shown art quilts and heard “My grandma makes quilts, but they’re not like those.”

    1. I loved it (said sarcastically) at arts and crafts shows when people would walk by a nice quilt or handmade item and say “I can make that” – instead of buying it from the artisan.

  9. In the past, the only place I encountered some push back on this front was in the academic world. But recently, I was having a short consult with another painter, and the “ageism” concept came up. After 20 years of having my work in commercial galleries, I am now in the situation of looking to “relaunch” myself. Also just turned 62. Private dealers and consultants have looked like a good option. If I am approaching a gallery that feels like a good fit, I assume they will be thinking about whether they can develop a collector base for my work, and that can take time. Also, if they already have a large group of more mature artists, they might be looking to add younger people they can help develop and nurture. BUT I also know that this can’t play into any actions I take, and I am just going to develop a plan and move forward. I agree with Janice- blow past it and take a stand for your work!

  10. Also consider regional discrimination. Prejudice based on the artist’s region or location – the unjustified, yet perceived cultural deficiency of the area reflected onto the artist’s work.

  11. I converted to Christianity from Judaism at the age of 21…I had a gallery interview go sour because the owner asked me what religion I was, & I felt that it was an incorrect question so I refused to answer…I don’t usually clam up, but I have been taught that it is an illegal question…The reason I didn’t answer was also that the curator was jewish, though the gallery owner christian, & I didn’t want her to feel left out, since she was present during the interview…I also get alot of false assumptions because Sari is from a particular culture…24 years in to this path, I am still learning…How do others deal with religion questions?

    1. When I was an art student in college I had just become a true believer in Christianity. My primary teacher was an atheist and because it was a small department, news of my faith soon turned to nasty prejudice. It was scarring and difficult to get by from then on, but I held on to my beliefs and at times had to endure humiliation publicly. This question is painful, but honestly the things we live through make our art our personal intimate reflections on life. Our perspectives are converted onto our canvass. I believe I bring beauty and peace and I am fully rewarded by this endeavor.
      I hope you will dig deeply into your faith and explore your expression!

    2. It is understandable to be uncomfortable with this question-because it is irrelevant.
      It is a tough one. As a Christian myself I think for me the right answer is to be honest and say “I am Christian”. I might follow up with my own question of why is this relevant to our discussion of art?
      Jesus was persecuted and those that are persecuted here on earth for their belief in him will be rewarded in the end.
      Love him or hate him-when George W. Bush was asked who was the most important figure in his life –his shocking and unexpected answer of Jesus Christ–garnered him much respect.

    3. Nancy…What ran through my head was the ‘be a Jew to the Jews & a Gentile to the Gentiles’ thing, which I guess is a strategy used for missionary work…I thought that if I opened hard that I would lose the opportunity to be a witness to the curator, during a slower unrolling…But maybe a hard opening was the correct answer…Thanks…

  12. Just ran across this in a NY Times piece on an artistic couple:
    “. . . one gallerist told her, “I don’t like working with living artists, no offense.”

  13. I have found that spending time analyzing on how I am treated is basically a waste of time and tears me down as a person.
    By connecting with people and discovering those who value me and my work is often a surprising and enlightening process. It also helps me focus on the more positive aspects of the people around me which also builds more relationships.
    I have dealt with a lot of health issues and have struggled with my weight as a result during different points in my life. Hands down, whether I am healthy or or not, thin or not, I have found that focusing on the positive around me is when I am most productive and the most successful. And if someone blows me off, then they aren’t going to appreciate my work no matter what I do.
    So basically, it’s about cultivating what works and shedding away what doesn’t.

  14. I observe and encounter (though I try to avoid it) age discrimination every where. Our whole society discriminates against older adults in every facet of human encounters. It’s always “the youngest person to ” as well as all the commercial idolization of youth. And only certain youth, not health, because health would accept all varieties of the human form while youth only accepts a narrowly defined subset.
    That said, I think it is a waste of energy to dwell on this unless one can do something about it and if one can then there isn’t dwelling upon but action. In any case, I suspect that as long as there is even one of these kinds of discrimination there will be all of them.

  15. Love reading each blog. I am an “emerging” senior, woman artist (approaching 70) and I feel such gratitude to have found such joy, energy and fulfillment in my art. I also feel the years have taught me to believe in myself …. do the footwork and believe that it is in the “process” that I will find the miracles unfold. I also accept that I do the footwork and put myself out there and trust that all the other prejudice’s may be there but they can’t scare me. I am not naive … but, I refuse to accept and/or listen to the negative anymore! Did that for far too long. My first group gallery show in May and a little solo exhibit at a church in December just thrills me!!! And, I never would have believed it a few years ago. Thank you all for your wonderful posts.

    1. You’re obviously in a good place and earning an income isn’t a necessity. Enjoy. These “ism’s” are harder to take when art is your career. The glass ceiling all over again.

    2. I certainly agree about the glass ceiling. I have experienced it far too often. I am retired on a very small social security income due to assisting in the care of a parent with Alzheimer’s daily. I found that my art was initially to save my sanity. But, it is much more than that I’ve found. I am an artist and …. it is my “work” and I work very hard to sell my art and make a living doing so! I work nights in my small bedroom when all are asleep and in between caregiving. I certainly enjoy it and it is no “rose garden” working hard to not lose myself in the caregiving. I AM an artist but will NOT let the negativity overtake me. It has taken over a year to get my 1st gallery chance. Knocking on doors, etc. I work too hard and love myself and my gift far too much to take it all “lightly”.
      Hopefully this has made clearer who I am. Thanks for listening…

    3. Pat, I empathize greatly as I am the primary caregiver for a parent with Alzheimers. I am impressed that you have such a positive outlook as sometimes I find myself hanging on by a thread. There is help out there, though, even if not always easy to find or actually obtain. I am grateful Connecticut has a Home Care for Elders Program. Perhaps your state does too. Check your local Agency on Aging for information and help. Also the Alzheimers Association.

    4. Pat, I hope you didn’t take my comment to mean you weren’t an “artist.” From your bubbly, enthusiastic comments about not being concerned with the “isms” I wrongly took it that the “isms” weren’t a concern to you because you perhaps had a retirement or some other source of income and you weren’t impacted by the isms.
      My response was more about my own experience. I didn’t mean to offend you.
      We’ve got a lot of “emerging” senior artists around here who have retired from the DC area and don’t depend on their art for the necessities. There are so many who have moved here in the past five years or so that it is having a negative impact of another sort on professional artists who have lived on our shore all our lives.
      Each week more people come in my gallery announcing they’re retiring here and are going to be artists. I once went to an artists enclave in a very good area of California and remarked to one of the artists that the prices were extremely reasonable. He (whose work was extraordinary) said so many people had retired there and become artists that it forced the professionals to hold their prices down. The retirees practically gave their work away because they didn’t need to make a living. It ran some professionals out of business, eh said. Now that appears to be going on here, though I am still thankfully earning a living with the work I love.
      In regard to your comments, though I don’t paint with thoughts of the “isms” in mind, if your sole income and the sole income of people you employ depend on how much money you bring in from your art, those nasty “isms” do affect you whether you want them to or not, whether you think about them or not.
      That doesn’t mean you dwell on them, but if you depend on your work selling for survival on this planet you do have to work around them the best way you can. That means never letting a piece of work leave your studio that’s less than…. The positive is maybe it forces you to be a better artist.
      There is a very young (30s) man in my area who is and has been his entire life independently wealthy, went to the best art school, travels around the globe to paint, paints beautifully some of the same things I do and draws $8,000 for a painting I would sell for $2,000, $30,000 for one I’d sell for $8,000. Part of it is that he can afford to wait for the sales. I’ve seen this before with other men of different ages in other areas. I wonder how well Thomas Kincade would have done if he’d been a woman?
      This is not to imply being a working artist is about how much money you make; but unfortunately, money does enter into the picture.
      When the economy was better that sort of thing didn’t bother me as much as it does when I am made to think about it (by things like this blog posting) now. When the economy went south and it became very difficult to survive as a professional artist in my area with the costs of running a gallery (and I have no other source of income), sometimes thoughts of the gender and age isms have argued to me. I don’t let it influence what I paint, but the isms do come to the fore at times.
      I have been a self-employed artist with no other source of income besides my art for nearly 20 years, painting professionally for over 40. I have done phenominaly well and was honored to be named one of the most collectible artists in my state. My gallery is still open while many in the area have closed. But I do feel the impact of the isms in some real life ways, as most professional artists do.
      I told my gallery manager about this topic yesterday and asked if he thought the isms of gender, age and in my case, weight, entered into the picture, and he said “Unfortunately, yes, yes, and yes.”
      He cited incidents that I’d never heard about before of people seriously looking at my work, remarking about its quality, talking about ones in particular that would make wonderful additions to their home(s), then asking who the artist was and when they discovered it was a woman, he said you could see the shutters come over their eyes and they walked out. I’m glad I never heard that before.
      I’ve seen more than a few instances since I let my hair grow out gray (and I do look younger than my age) and my weight climbed, of people being turned off when I introduced myself as the artist instead of the positive response I used to get when I was slender and dark haired. There is a financial impact on professional artists whether they like it or not, whether they can do anything about it or not.
      I’ve spent a lot of time praying about what to do as the slow economy lingers. The answer keeps coming to me to keep painting. So I do, and try not to let anything enter my mind but the inspiration in front of me or the latest vision that’s come to me in prayer. This blog posting brought it to the fore.
      While you can’t let the isms dictate what or how you paint, they unfortunately do enter the picture of your life in a real way when what you sell and how much you sell it for pays employees’ pay, payroll taxes, workmans’ compensation, rent, mortgage, insurances, electric bills, sewer bills, groceries, dental, medical, dog food, tv, internet….
      My mother died from dementia. I empathize with what you’re going through in caring for a parent with Alzheimers and appreciate how you’ve turned your art into a thing of healing, strength and beauty for others to share. That’s what real art is about.

    5. Thank you, Ellen. I can understand how you have been impacted by your personal experience. Between the economy and the emerging retired artists much stress and anxiety for sure. We certainly do have to contend with the “isms” as senior women. And…. I believe with getting to know each other and our personal circumstances (through this venue for instance) we can assure ourselves that we don’t take part in that other “ism” of discounting our peers. We need each other and… to support one another. In that light I would like to thank you for sharing the difficulties and the joys you’ve experienced over the years. I hold tenatiously onto my positive outlook as the climb from where I am, I know, is going to be at times gruelling, painful and fulfilling. It has taken Years to finally be able to embrace my career as an artist (for many reasons). .. and the time is Now at last and protect it I will. Thanks for sharing with me this morning, Ellen.

  16. Every path in life has challenges and overcoming those challenges is what makes us able to continue moving forward. As a newly emerging artist, I’ve decided I simply don’t care if the -isms exist. Creating art is what I’m meant to do and I’ll do it with the same dedication that I’ve done everything else in my life. The world is too big to be held down by -isms and the Internet gives us access to so many new potential collectors. It almost seems like the more one feels boxed in by the -isms, the more that person might be perfect for a niche clientele.

  17. Sexism is alive and well and rears its head in odd and unsettling ways. I’m a young (late 20’s) artist who recently had a show with another woman in a local gallery. We submitted images and a statements about our work for a press release through the gallery. When the assistant received the materials, she wrote back to praise the preparation and suggested we do an portrait with us embracing one another “legs entwined” for publication. Our work is not sensual or sexy or flirty, nor are the other artist and I well acquainted. The work itself would not be better supported through this image.
    I was dismayed the gallery felt it would appropriate to highlight not the work we made or us as professional artists, but as flirty women. It seems unlikely two male artists in a similar position would be asked to present themselves in that way. We politely declined, but it felt hurtful and though I truly wanted to give her an earful, I was concerned about damaging the new relationship and cowardly avoided confrontation. Months later I still wince at the experience.

    1. victoria pendragon

      Embarrassed…I have to give you credit for holding back…that suggestion could not have been more inappropriate, given the apparent nature of the work you had presented.
      In my very feisty heart, I hope that some day you find yourself in a position to express yourself to this person. And again, congratulations on your tact. She didn’t deserve it.

  18. Um…I noticed that handicap/disability is not mentioned here. I am sure that this omission was not intentional, but it does need to be brought out in the public. Before I go on, let me make sure that I am actually speaking for myself and not for other deaf artists.
    I have gone to several art galleries & museums in NYC many times – approximately 4-5 times a month, and I have yet come across anything done by a deaf artist. I myself am “deaf” – I put that in quote only because I was “mainstreamed” (education wise) into the hearing culture, and I think more like a hearing person than a deaf person. And I am now self-employed as an artist/designer, and despite the fact that many people don’t agree with me, my severe hearing impairment does have significant impact on my ability to promote or get in touch with business people. I had to use a lot of alternative resources or creative ways to get whatever I need done. And I had to deal with the current social perception – since I am deaf, I must be either part of the deaf community or have some connections with the communities or the organizations serving the deaf. The truth is that I have only one or two hearing impaired friends, and one of them is an artist. Anyway, my point is that I have come across situations (especially as a designer during my early career days) where the focus is so much more on my inability to communicate via phone rather than on my creative abilities. This skewered focus has greatly diminished my career opportunities (in the design field) in the past. With the advent of Internet, my opportunities were much better, however, I still have to deal with the perceived “stigma” (my own perception) of my hearing impairment even in the art world. What can I do about? Well, the best I can do is to just continue to do my own work and focus more on the people who can appreciate my work and not care one bit about my hearing impairment. 🙂

    1. For what it is worth… I truly admire and thank you for sharing your experiences within our art world and how you have not only endured but risen above it all with increased focus on those “who appreciate” your work. Indeed, I find the internet a blessing for me as well … being home-bound a good deal of the time. Thanks for sharing…

  19. Women certainly do have a harder time in the art world. Ever see “Who Does She Think She Is?” I work on large-scale sculpture and most of my colleagues are men. I am fortunate to know so many great men in my industry that respect me and my work, but it certainly is easier now that I’m in my 30s. Being a small, pretty 20-something was pretty hard to get taken seriously! I went to a party for artists and architects in Wash DC once and I was the only woman there who wasn’t an artist or architect’s wife! ON another occasion, a male colleague told me “I hope you don’ t have children because you are very talented.” He has children, but he has a wife. When you are a mother and an artist there is a ton of pressure to put art to the side. Male artists are very often not asked to do that.

  20. Thankyou Andrew, I was about to raise Ableism as well. I have had galleries be very excited to see my work, then see me struggle up the stairs with my cane or have difficulty sitting and see them close their minds to me straight away. disabled artists are often put in the ‘too hard’ basket and are dismissed. in turn we sit at home, create our works and then fear getting them out because of discrimination, because it’s hard for some of us to get out to a gallery at all, then to be turned down is crushing. I have had others accept me for exhibitions then refuse to put me in an accessible section of the gallery. most Australian galleries involve fees, so you can imagine the feeling at having to pay for a non accessible space! but they don’t care, they have their fees.
    I’m about to write a series on my blog about discrimination in the arts. I can’t speak to racism, but as a disabled woman I feel like I have some of the market cornered. being a mother doesn’t help either.
    I count myself as very lucky, I have a separate pension income, my husband is my live-in carer and takes care of our daughter so that I don’t have to put my art to the side, and I get to be an artist full time. but I still read that women artists would be better off hiding their genders. I still face discrimination for painting female nudes as a woman. and I still face discrimination as an artist with a disability. I want to change those things. I don’t hide any of them.
    some of my favorite comments include:
    “wow I didn’t realize you were disabled, you look too young/pretty/normal”
    “I didn’t realize you were a woman, these paintings look like they were done by a man”
    “you have such a male gaze, all your women are too attractive to be painted by a woman”
    “don’t women only paint fat women?”
    “[Jennie isn’t] really disabled, she’s just trying to be the center of attention” (behind my back)
    “you aren’t disabled if you aren’t in a wheelchair”

    1. After reading your post here Jennie, I just have to say something. I completely believe you have experienced these things.
      I have a disability that is not apparent. I can only sit or stand for short periods of time and I am easily fatigued, which effects how I can present my work at say an art fair or gallery opening etc. Because of this my husband must help me and I am always amazed at how many people think he is the artist! If you saw him and knew his background, you would laugh hysterically too! But then again…I sign my name with my first two initials, so I have to remember it is a valid question. They do not automatically know the gender.
      It still always amazes me that people think the way they do. I have to ask myself, where do all these beliefs about the disabled (and all the ism’s) come from? To think about how they came to believe that if your are not young/pretty/normal you can’t be a successful artist (or be anything for that matter), for example. The advertising slogan keeps going through my mind; “sex sells”, and it does and the gallery owners know this too! But in most cases…they take it too far (re: Embarrassed’s post).
      My experience has been from a career in a male dominated proffession and I experienced every kind of discrimination you can think of (on one of my assessments was written, ” wears her uniform very well”…it took me a couple years to learn exactly what that meant). My biggest learning curve was watching other young/pretty/females, just take rude comments etc.
      -I call it the ‘keep your head in the sand and they won’t do that to me’ syndrome. Sorry to say it but, if you think you are exempt from someones biases and prejudices, think again. Yes, it is a part of life. I try not to let it influence my actions or how I live. But, at every opportunity I have to confront those ‘beliefs’, I try to use tact and my intention is not to lash back at them (although that’s tough when one is actually offended), but to educate them on another way of thinking. Sometimes just asking them why they believe “that” can force them to confront their own prejudices. I have found that most of these people are ignorant to what they are proposing and it opens a door for them to rethink their belief…sometimes they don’t even know why they think what they are thinking. Others run when confronted!
      Right or wrong, maybe it is human nature.
      Remember that society is bombarded every day with how we are supposed to think through media which in turn, has influenced generations before them. Then on top of that there are regional belief systems, influenced by things such as religeon, or politics. The reasons are endless.
      Let’s face it, you can not change someone else’s mind about something, but you can try to redirect them in another direction. They have to ultimately be willing to go there themselves though.
      Don’t take it personally, because I don’t think it is meant to be. (Unless its made by a jealous artist who thinks they are in some sort of competition with you). ; )
      Rise above, keep creating what you were meant to create for the world (whether they get it or not) and keep the hope alive that by doing this, one day the world might be a fairer place.

  21. This is a funny topic. Being a full grown man I try not to see things such as racism. People are just people. But I think in our culture (American) there are mind viruses that cause some like behavior among groups of people. And those groups differ depending on what part of the country you are in. That’s why I think it’s important for an artist to travel.
    But I think all people have a certain degrees of insecurities , ignorance and ego issues. Let me tell you what I mean.
    I have painted and created art all of my life. As a young black man I moved to what would be a metropolitan city in the south. I wanted to show my work so I was directed to go see the two of the nationally known black artist who lived in the area. Which was probably my first mistake. To some degree I was segregating myself. I should have looked for the best artist in the area ,period.
    The artist I met welcomed me with open arms. They even included me in exhibits with them. I thought “wow how great is this?” That of course was until we did the show and I got more attention than he did. Then he wasn’t so friendly and I was basically told I needed to know my place and wait my turn.
    In the black community it has been my experience that there seems to be some type of invisible hierarchy of gatekeepers. They seem to be mostly intellectuals with academic credentials who determine the worth of young artist. (I am not saying that that is true. It is merely my perception of the experience.) Is that racism?
    Next as I struck out on my own doing exhibits and art fairs I saw something even more interesting. At on art fair I rented a tent and created a very nice exhibit of my work, made the tent as inviting as possible even had some smooth jazz playing in the background. But I noticed that the black patrons would not come into my tent they wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. Hmmm , I thought , that’s strange. But the other patrons of the fair came in and we had great fun. We discussed my work and me as an artist and had a great time. The tent stayed full most of the day. And the funny thing was those same people who refused eye contact came back peeking over the shoulders of others to see what was going on. It was almost as though others had to validate me in order for them to accept me. Is that racism?
    Now as a more experienced artist I have achieved some level of success. There are people who are familiar with my work in places as far away as Europe. I have several original pieces of my work in a new Omni Luxury hotel. And even now as I go to galleries to present my work I am for the most part still directed back to the black community. Keep in mind I do some figurative work as well as abstract.
    Question? Because work is created by a Black artist does that make it black art? Is that racism?
    Bear in mind I know that galleries are businesses. But, I wonder sometimes how much they are telling customers what to like rather than exposing them to diverse work and letting them decide. Hmmmmm… is that racism.
    At any rate I refuse to let those experiences define me as an artist or an individual. I take responsibility for my role in life experiences.
    For any artist who has a passion. Create. Racism is an excuse, when it comes to art there are no boundaries. Good art evokes emotions. Emotions are universal. When you connect with people they will come to you.

  22. It would seem to me to be a very simple equation – it is a loop of sorts. Our society is skewed to the young, thin & beautiful & anything with a brand name – if in doubt look at the morning news programs. All the news is centered on youth appeal & shallow topics unless the person or brand has a long history ie. the Rolling Stones or a product like Gucci.
    Big city gallery owners, not necessarily picking on them, follow this trend since they see it on TV & hear from clients that they want new, trendy, splashy. Can’t fault gallery owners, they are in business to make money. Besides, showing young artists proves that as a business person you are current with trends – there is a pattern developing. Galleries sell what is easiest for them as a rule.
    Then there is heavism in addition to ageism, & other weighty issues. Since I carve stone unlike most of the others on the blog, my work is perceived as heavier to move. Mix in with this the recession & you have a recipe for gallery owners who still must sell work to make a living to clients who don’t want to spend money. This means the gallery is chasing trends harder which is the perception as well as the reality.
    The thing to do as artists is stop whining about ageism, heavism, etc. & start treating your professionally created art as a commodity business. You have a product, if people want that they buy it. If not you move on. But to be clear, if you want to sell to a gallery, start acting like a business. If a gallery wants your work, they should either pay for the shipping both ways or at minimum split the shipping cost. This way they have skin in the game. If a gallery will not pay, it tells you how your work is valued. Other businesses pay shipping – why not galleries. It is a cost of business. Galleries do not pay because there are other artists (retired dabblers, etc) that will subsidize the galleries.
    Now I am on to larger artwork & leaving small sculptures & galleries behind. Larger artwork is harder to do but at least am getting paid for it. Also leaving art consultants behind. It appears that art consultants only can sell paintings – have tried 5 different art consultants.
    When anyone wants a piece of art delivered, it is $50 to start the truck – & that does not include putting the truck in gear. That is to start the truck. Not being hard-nosed about this, just realistic. I need to eat & pay bills. My time is worth money. If others do not treat you well by respecting your time & your travel, it is saying something about how you are viewed – as a victim to be exploited. Victims are meant to be exploited. Victims do nothing about the situation except whine to people that can/will do nothing to help. Another pattern developing.

  23. This discussion has been directed to galleries, but I have found before getting to the point of producing professional level work, there is much discrimination in getting the means to perfect the craft to be at gallery level. Many people/women, start out with art degrees or even substantial but unfinished univ education but a certain generation which I fall in, did not have access to the many fine and geographically represented art academies to learn important fundamental.s Today academies are everywhere and turn out a fine crop of professional level artists and teachers who set up more smaller, powerful ateliers in outlying areas. Women who stopped their art to have family , may find themselves in a position as empty nester or with help of nannies and good time management, trying to pick up where they left off. This means at a later stage and having left any money-making opps usually they/we-without-fundamentals-era artists, try to beef up the degree where we succeeded with Joseph Beuys everything is art projects, now try to make ”real” art and do our best to fill obvious gaps in whatever way we can. Unable to attend a curriculum full time (minimally 3 yrs), for lack of time consumption nor financials, we are then also faced with the slap of fine print which states our obvious sell by date and inelibibility to obtain some of the best , well known study grants and awards. It can seem very quickly that the older artist cannot learn or should have a lower ranking order for eligibility based on the criteria we repeatedly see. Then we lower our standard in the search out of necessity or worse give up the search and inner soul for improvement as a mean of reaching commercial status. What a catch 22!
    Many discussions exists on favorable situations like today’s 50 yr old is yesterday’s 40 and improvement in life, access to internet means new inroads for self teaching, TG. But there is a pragmatic side that we hear about constantly, where the generations who paid into the social system and expect and deserve therefore an adequate retirement will be faced with diminishing pots to fill their expectations. Then what? If hypothetically, we raised children, don’t have our skills updated, aren’t commerically viable and we outlve or cohabitate in a caretaking or care needing situation–all statistically possible and likely scenarios– why should we be held back from educational opps when our facilities still allow us to improve our situation and not be incumbent on the government when we age. No one will come to the rescue and it will be too late for us to improve our situation. I look for financial possiblities to add to modest teaching income and find myself being so thankful for a brain that works after the age of thirty-five, because apparently one does not deserve (male or female) to have funding after this age! We just need not apply. One can argue there are other venues but this is outright age discrimination and it is tolerated (too soft, ”blatantly promoted” is more like it) in some of the top, most renown schools and touted in the most circulated artist magazines. Okay a special conference for artists over 60, (appauling!) That being said, there are organizations who have come up at leawt to the millenium and changed their policy even if in recent years. I commend them and hope others follow suit. Is there anyone out there who shares my rant/vent? To all you who feel as I do– keep looking and keep applying. A particularly tenacious generation, we can be working in something we love and are capable of even into older/less physcially mobile segment of human development–at an age past 65 –and maybe like me even visualize this and want to be producing art that is commerciall viable. The retirement cutoff will slide up higher to match the trends of living longer, being healthier. Education is moving to a direction of more online programs–even masters of studio art as low residency programs. Life will get better and we can stimulate this movement. There is definitely safety in numbers and knowledge is power, so rallying forward will bring reward. Keep learning, improving, setting the bar for yourself , getting education, staying vocal and vital and following a path that serves to set good exampe for others who will join this direction–which is eventually all who are fortuntate enough to age with dignity and self worth, no matter which chosen method of contributing to society.

    1. victoria pendragon

      tb…I’m inspired by the idea of a show for The Elders…hmmmm…I’ve got a new pot to stir…I really like that idea!

  24. I went “huh? really?” when a gallery owner told me that some people, looking at my paintings, thought I was a man. Also, apparently my signature looked masculine!
    It makes me laugh–I like to confound expectations. But I still think “really?” because to me art is art–it doesn’t have a gender. I don’t even think of *my* art as having *my* gender!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Jan: There are all kinds of theories about this. Take a feminist art history class sometime to learn more about gender and art.
      I’m curious as to what you said to the gallerist.

  25. I happen to be in the female-dominated mixed media world…and yet, discrimination is everywhere regardless of gender, age, race, or ability. And there is discrimination even within groups. Like for example – the deaf community is actually compromised of several groups: hearing-impaired (“oral deaf” – the ones that don’t use sign-language), in-between (both sign language & lipreading), and sign deaf (the ones that only use sign language), and I have been discriminated as an “oral deaf” only because I acted too much like an hearing person. And my biggest challenge with the mixed media art world is having to deal with “jealousy” – not the good kind but the kind that makes it difficult for me to get ahead. So, whenever I created art (or design), I have to ignore these negative elements and just do the best I can. As a matter of fact, I just signed a contract with a woman-owned business to do design work despite the fact that I am the only male artist in its design team. I just go with the flow and not worry about the gender…or my hearing handicap…

  26. Alyson, I didn’t say much beyond comments of the “hm. that’s Interesting–and surprising” variety. I usually put such client observations down to lack of art education and/or inexperience (as well as, occasionally, mental or societal bias). The gallery owner is a long-time friend. I encourage her to do a little educating but sometimes she feels it would compromise future business.

  27. Face to face selling is my thing. I want people to say they met me.
    I am thinking of my history as an artist. I won’t even try to do any selling via the web.
    I have studio visits by appointment.

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