Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Networks and Discrimination: Why Female Artists are Disadvantaged, and What They Can Do About It

It is not easy being an artist. Recognition of talent and creativity can be slow, sales only happen in small galleries, and initial sales are domestic and even local. The last thing artists need is discrimination in addition, but that is exactly what female artists get: a recent investigation showed that comparable paintings sell at a 42 percent discount if the artist is female.

Is there anything that can be done about such discrimination? This was the question that we (JungYun Han, Henrich R. Greve, and Andrew Shipilov) wanted to address with data on Korean artists and their exhibitions abroad. We found that female artists were less successful in exhibiting abroad, as expected, but that difference was not our main interest. Instead, we wanted to know whether we could identify anything in their careers that reduced or eliminated their disadvantage. We could.

An important step in the careers of many artists is a residency stay in which they share workspace in studios provided by the residency and also get to meet other junior and senior artists to gain inspiration and advice. Residency programs help artists succeed, which is exactly their purpose, but unexpectedly this was only true for female artists. Education in an elite art school provides top-notch technical training and artistic appreciation. Elite education helps artists succeed, which is exactly its purpose, but again there was a surprise: it benefited female artists more.

What is going on here? The best explanation for these two effects is not training, but social networks. Art residency programs and elite schools connect artists with others who can provide advice on how to approach galleries and even direct contacts to them. The best explanation for the male and female difference is that female artists have more to prove, so the benefit from a network tie is greater for them. In network effects we often see such effects – those who are accepted purely by who they are gain some benefit from a good social network, but not nearly as much as those who are discriminated against and need a social network to be introduced to the right people and become recognized for their achievements.

These effects offer clear advice for how to help women succeed in art, and probably also in other kinds of entrepreneurship and work. They also offer a warning to society because such differences can only exist because of discrimination.

Han J, Greve HR, Shipilov A (2024) The liability of gender? Constraints and enablers of foreign market entry for female artists. Journal of International Business Studies.