Paint Schoodic

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Self-defeating behavior?

Perhaps women make less money because we tend to take our careers less seriously than men do.

American Eagle in Dry Dock, by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve written about gender inequality in prices achieved by male and female artists. I’ve also written about the gender gap in the broader arts industry. Women in the arts earn 68¢ for every dollar earned by men. That’s far worse than in the overall economy, where women can expect to earn 79¢ for every male-earned dollar.

There’s gender disparity in arts prizes, too. We see it at every awards celebration. It’s somewhat puzzling because the judging for art prizes is usually ‘blind’, meaning the juror doesn’t know who the artist is. However, that’s a leaky bucket, since most of us recognize each other’s work even when the work isn’t signed.

Dinghy, Camden Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
If work is genuinely judged without knowledge of who the artist is, what do judges see in men’s work that they don’t in women’s work? Men tend to paint bigger at plein air events; they buy into the cliché, “go big or go home” more than women do. Bigger work is flashier and more likely to catch a juror’s eye. That’s about the only qualitative gender-based difference I’ve seen, and it’s hardly absolute. I’ve strained to look for them, and differences in subject matter, competence, temperament or viewpoint are simply not there.

Lisa BurgerLentz and I were chatting last week about the idea of professionalism. She proposed that artists who define themselves as professionals tend to earn more money than those who see themselves as dedicated hobbyists or amateurs. I looked around the sales floor at Adirondack Plein Air and thought she was right. Those painters who see themselves as pros charge more money and put effort into creating a consistent package of framing, image, and product. They have developed a sales patter that works. To be a professional artist, you do a lot more than create beautiful work.

Bev's Garden, by Carol L. Douglas
Bobbi Heath and I drove to Long Island Beach, New Jersey, yesterday for Plein Air Plus. In her prior life, Bobbi was a tech project manager who worked in entrepreneurial start-ups. She brings those management skills to her art career. “No one else bestows on you the title of ‘professional.’ You decide whether you’re a professional or not. It’s not about how much you sell. It is based on your view of yourself. Being a professional is about how you approach your work. It’s an attitude that you have about yourself and your career.”

None of this has anything to do with artistic brilliance. I assume that anyone reading this is already striving to be the best painter he or she can be. In the marketplace, artistic brilliance is a chimera. It’s irrelevant to sales, because there’s a market for anything. It’s also a subjective definition.

Keuka Clearing Sky, by Carol L. Douglas
Perhaps women make less money because we tend to take our careers less seriously than men do. We shy away from the hard work of comparative pricing, marketing, and market development, partially because those aren’t areas we have any experience in. We tend to see our low income as an indictment of our worth, rather than a stage in our business development. If that’s the case, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

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