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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.

(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.

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.”

Read the full report here.

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

6 replies on “Report Finds Huge Gender Gap in Polish Art Schools”

      1. Not the ones who can jump : )

        This man, for instance, jumped to help heal a little girl.

        “John Gebhardt’s wife, Mindy, said that this little girl’s entire family was executed. The insurgents intended to execute the little girl also, and shot her in the head…but they failed to kill her. She was cared for in John’s hospital and is healing up, but continues to cry and moan. The nurses said John is the only one who seems to calm her down, so John has spent the last four nights holding her while they both slept in that chair.. The girl is coming along with her healing.
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  1. From the article: “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.”

    It doesn’t really refute anything. The hypothesis exists to explain a current phenomena. The study merely asked 20 year olds what their priorities as 35 year olds would be, as if something meaningful could be drawn from that.

    It’s also curious (but understandable, given that the study is done by academics) that art teaching is made out to be an end goal for art students, when that’s hardly ever the case. Some art students intend on being art professors, but far more students intend on being artists or have the ideal of being a self-sustaining artist. It may very well be that lots of male professors are teaching “to support their family”.

    1. Of course there are comments from men trying to mansplain or justify things… is there anything more tiresome than male opinions?

  2. Once one of my professors – not very sucessful one, as you can imagine – told me that you have to be “a whore or a faggot” to become a sucessful artist. So, yeah…

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