Artwork by Kelly Puissegur

Refuse to be the Muse – Highlighting the role of women in the art world

Refuse to be the Muse. This is a powerful and expressive statement. This is also the title for a month-long campaign running in connection with Women’s History Month by one of the leading online galleries, Saatchi Art. The campaign has a celebratory tone layered with a sense of defiance, and aims to encourage female artist representation in the traditional museum and gallery world. Acknowledging that throughout history women have often been the subject of art, and the fact that women still find it more difficult to share their work and receive recognition when compared to their male peers, this campaign tries to reverse the factors in the art world that inhibit the progress of female artists. It also offers multiple ways to engage with the work of women who refuse to be the muse.

Throughout the campaign the gallery will be celebrating women artists, and introducing their vibrant and compelling works to a global audience. The campaign also sees the debut of a video series featuring a conversation and behind-the-scenes look at 7 women artists and Saatchi Art’s Chief Curator, Rebecca Wilson discussing the transformation of women’s role in the traditional art world. This is accompanied by Saatchi Art’s first-ever all-women artist catalogue that brings to light top women artists from around the globe.

I had an interview with Saatchi Chief Curator Rebecca Wilson to find out more about the campaign.

Reflecting on your own career and that of the artists who will be highlighted throughout the campaign, could you share more about necessary shifts that need to take place for the barriers that female artists (and other role players in the art space) face to be broken down? What do you see as the strongest inhibitors of this evolution of the art world? 

Through this campaign we are highlighting the very different outcomes that we see at our online gallery than have for decades been the case at brick and mortar galleries. We represent as many women artists as men (in the US and Europe only 14% of the artists represented by brick and mortar galleries are women), and our clients are very happy to buy works by women – in 2018, more than half of our sales by U.S.-based artists were works by women. So the argument from men running brick and mortar galleries that male artists sell better does not have to be true. People running galleries, curators deciding on museum shows, editors publishing art magazines need to make sure that women and people of colour are equally represented. If you want to buy an artwork try to purchase works by women. If galleries and museums near where you live are not showing works of women as often as those of men, ask why.

Reflecting on your own career and the women you have engaged with over the years, how has the attitude of female artists and other role players changed regarding their position in and contribution to the art world?  What do you see as the biggest contributors to these shifts? 

While women artists have undoubtedly seen greater exposure in recent years, they still continue to struggle for equal representation in the traditional art system.  For example, female artists far outnumber men in art schools, and yet they comprise only 30% of artists on display in museums and galleries.  Additionally, full-time women artists make an average of 81 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts.

Our “Refuse to Be the Muse” campaign acknowledges and embraces the current social and political moment.  From the Women’s March to #MeToo, women are increasingly refusing to accept the status quo.  Instead they are making their voices be heard and taking action.

Could you please share more about Saatchi Art’s first-ever all-women artist catalogue that will accompany the campaign? 

The catalog features emerging and top-selling women artists from around the globe.  We want to introduce people to a selection of talented women artists with very different backgrounds, making works in a wide range of styles.

Could you please share more about the video series that will be debut during the campaign? 

The video will run throughout the month of March featuring several of our top-selling female artists.  It will provide a glimpse into their creative process and give insight on their opinions of what being a muse has traditionally meant within the art world.

Could you please share more about the two artworks that Kelly Puissegur was commissioned to create for the campaign? 

Kelly Puissegur created two new works specially for the Refuse to Be the Muse campaign.  True to her signature style, each work combines text and figures to make an empowered representation of women who aspire to be more than just inspiration for others.

Could you share more about the work that Saatchi Art is doing and the approach you have as the Chief Curator to ensure the positive representation of female artists and their work? 

At the forefront of our minds in everything we do is how essential it is to support the diverse range of artists we represent at Saatchi Art.  We started Saatchi Art very deliberately as an online gallery precisely so that we could support artists all over the world who have been under-served by the traditional gallery model, and this means women and people of color.

What are you hoping will be the spillover from this campaign? 

I think we are living through an exciting time of change where there is now evidence of a concerted effort and desire to do something about the underrepresentation of women artists in the art world.  Every effort now needs to be made across the art world to ensure that it reflects the society we live in in terms of gender as well as racial diversity.

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