Help Level the Playing Field for Women Artists

Left: "Hayley's Peonies," 2014, by Karen Ajuha. Acrylics, 16" x 16". Copyright © Karen Ahuja. Used by permission of the artist. Right: Karen Ajuha

Discussions on the status of women in the visual arts seem to ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean that pound the shore. By dedicating the June 2015 issue to women in the arts, Art News created an epic series of waves that is building the momentum for positive change. Simply relying on the passage of time to create the desired change is risky. Yet, this is where women artists have been expected to wait. Momentum created by the wave of change increases the status of women in the visual arts. Women artists create momentum by talking about gender inequality, breaking down personal barriers that block success, and building public platforms to launch plans for change.

"Poppylarity," 2015, by Karen Ajuha. Acrylic, 15" x 30". Copyright © Karen Ahuja. Used by permission of the artist.
“Poppylarity,” 2015, by Karen Ajuha. Acrylic, 15″ x 30″. Copyright © Karen Ahuja. Used by permission of the artist.

Even though women artists are far better represented today, women must continually push the conversation about attaining gender equality. Sales data shows that at auction, the highest price paid to date for a work by a living woman artist is $7.1 million (Yayoi Kusama); for a living man, it was a sculpture (by Jeff Koons), which sold for $58.4 million. The most ever paid for a work by a deceased woman artist is $44.4 million (Georgia O’Keeffe), versus $142.4 million for a deceased male artist (Francis Bacon). If status is measured by sales, the case for increasing the status of women is clear. By raising awareness, women can gain public support to make a plan to close the gender equality gap.

So what’s the plan?

First, change begins on an individual level by removing self-imposed barriers such as false modesty. Stop saying, “No one wants to hear about my art.” People engage in conversations when there is passion, so take time to share the progress of an art project or business idea. It is in these daily conversations that an artist can hone her sales and marketing skills.

Second, understand your market so you can appropriately engage others in your conversations. Your conversational advocates will connect you to supporters who can help you obtain your goals.

Finally, use public platforms to get your message to more people. You can use existing platforms or create your own.

Northwest Arkansas is an energetic artistic epicenter with huge potential to influence the art world. With a world-class museum, a women’s film festival and impressive corporate art collections, there are amazing opportunities for women to positively affect their status. A local group of women are investing in an initiative called Momentum by Launch Leverage and Lift-Up Women (LLLWomen). The Momentum initiative supports the art community by building networks where women can share ideas, create self-supporting businesses, leverage knowledge by teaching art/marketing workshops, and gain representation in galleries and museums.

Supporting Louisa Elderton’s view in the, “Women need to establish a network of professionals committed to the promotion of art by women. The increase of female curators, gallerists and museum directors have gained influence, but we can’t rely on the passive assumption that time will naturally create gender balance. Encouraging energized dialogue and action can reshape the normative structures that continue to subjugate women artists.” In summary, when the plan is to build momentum for change, women’s specific contributions will shape the community, and women will increase their status in the visual arts.

[pi_wiloke_infobox title=”More Reading” content=’Reilly, “Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” ARTnews, May, 2015

Elderton, “Redressing the Balance: Women in the Art World”,, July 2013

Bader, “Women Still Face Discrimination”, May 2012,

National Museum of Women in the Arts,”Get Facts”

The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, 1998.’]

Karen Ahuja is a transplanted visual artist living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her education in graphic design and marketing allows her to create a balance between creating and selling art. She is one of the founding members of Launch Leverage Lift-Up Women (LLLWomen). The Momentum initiative focuses on empowering women to explore, learn and sell more art. Additional information about the Momentum.