Report Finds Huge Gender Gap in Polish Art Schools

The Guerrilla Girls' 1986 Report Card alongside Pussy Galore's 2015 Report Card (image via Maura Reilly/Facebook)
The Guerrilla Girls’ 1986 gallery representation report card alongside Pussy Galore’s 2015 report card (image via Maura Reilly/Facebook) (click to enlarge)

Thanks to the likes of the Guerrilla Girls and Gallery Tally, the past few decades have produced a plethora of research on gender inequality in the art world, the bulk of which focuses on unequal representation of male and female artists in galleries and museums. Fewer studies, though, have set their sights on inequality in art schools — institutions that could, in theory, be training a new generation of artists to help fight the patriarchy after they graduate.

A new report by the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation, a Warsaw-based initiative devoted to supporting the work of young female artists, investigates a stark disparity in Poland’s art academies: women constitute 77% of students but only 22% of professors. Though the study only reflects the state of art education in one country, it offers insights into “factors undermining women’s careers in visual art academies,” as the researchers write — factors that art educators everywhere in the world might want to consider.

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(all screen shots by the author for Hyperallergic)

Called “Little Chance to Advance? An Inquiry into the Presence of Women at Art Academies in Poland,” the report examines nine major Polish institutions offering visual art training, including the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, University of Fine Arts in Poznań, and the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Art in Krakow. Using data collected from freedom of information requests, 966 surveys, and 32 in-depth interviews with students and professors, the researchers seek to explain why Polish art academies are such female-dominated places of study but male-dominated places of work. They put the numbers in historical context: if the percentage of female art professors had grown in proportion to the percentage of female art students in Poland, “women should have constituted the majority of art professors already in the 1970s,” they write. “Today, some 45 years later, only one in five visual art professors is female.”

Their data refutes a few tired hypotheses about the glass ceiling — for example, that the gender gap in professorship exists because women prefer raising families to salaried employment. On the contrary, on average, neither women nor men saw “taking care of the family” as an attractive prospect for the future; 58% of female respondents and 52% of male respondents declared that they would not be willing to give up their artistic aspirations for the sake of a family.

The report also rejects the notion that men receive more professorships because they work harder or do better academically. Female students reported studying an average of 12 hours a week more than males. Instead, the gender disparity is more likely due to a few key findings about the relationships between students and their professors and other role models: 

  • Male students are more likely to receive encouragement from teachers of both genders, while female students are more likely to receive negative criticism.
  • Male students are more likely to receive assistantship offers from teachers, a phenomenon that’s not explained by scholarship status. This is especially significant given Poland’s pedagogical model, in which assistantship is the primary road to professorship. 
  • Somewhat ironically, women reported having fewer female artists to serve as professional role models. When respondents were asked to list three acclaimed Polish female artists in their art discipline, 53% did not provide any names — “though it is difficult to determine whether due to a conscious omission or a lack of knowledge,” the researchers write.

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Just as importantly, the report offers a reminder of how many slippery factors contribute to the art world’s gender problem, and how hard it is to pinpoint and quantify them. A lot of it boils down to simple discrimination, the researchers posit, however hard that might be to measure. As one student interviewee put it, “I think that men don’t let women into certain posts because there is still this idea in art circles that the true artist can only be a man.”

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Read the full report here.

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