Gender equality in fine arts is long overdue

When I tell people my program is all-girls, they’re usually pretty confused. Enrollment for Fine Arts at Queen’s University is over 90 per cent women and my class in particular is composed of 23 girls. This is a very different demographic than what I see in museums and in most art history classes, where male artists are prioritized and given greater respect.  

Though strides have been made towards equal representation in fine arts, we remain in a culture that still marginalizes the work of women. In the United States, women receive half of all the Masters of Fine Arts degrees, yet they’re only 30 per cent of the artists represented by commercial galleries. It’s the responsibility of the art world to actively advocate for equal and proportional exhibition, payment and opportunities for women. 

At Queen’s University, the introductory art history course, Art in the West from Antiquity to Modernity, is mandatory for any students pursuing a degree in Art History or Fine Art. In this course, students are tested on works that feature more nude women than works created by female artists. I found it laughable that Frida Kahlo, a famous artist in her own right, was introduced by the professor as Diego Rivera’s wife. Education plays a key role in the conversation on gender equality in the fine arts world, as the future artists, curators and critics are shaped by our education system.

Holding our education system accountable for teaching the history of the women who make up half of the artistic workforce is essential to solving this issue. Educators have the ability to make decisions on what material they cover, and to represent a balanced art history. Women have always been creating art in many forms, even when barred from higher education and support from society. Teaching a narrative of male superiority is detrimental to the future of the artistic community. 

Supporting groups that promote accountability in the arts is essential to making real changes. Radical intersectional feminist groups like the Guerrilla Girls have been fighting against the corruption of major galleries for the past four decades. The group has been using fact-based posters in their activism to expose the art world’s discrimination. Activists like the Guerrilla Girls do important educational work, and supporting groups like them is necessary to creating an equitable artistic community.

Today, women are fighting for few existing opportunities in art, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be complacent in being a small statistic of success. We need to work towards changing the system so that women and other marginalized groups are fairly represented in our museums, textbooks and fine arts education. 

Amelia is The Journal’s Assistant Video Editor. She’s a second-year Fine Arts student.

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