Can you name 5 women artists? Few can; a campaign aims to change that

Can you name five women artists?

It’s not a trick question, but for many, it is tricky.

Let’s step back and attempt the opposite: Can you name five male artists?

If you need a hint, just think back to a popular ‘90s cartoon and you’re almost done.

“Most people know Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. So you’ve got four men there already,” said Susan Fisher Sterling, director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). “You don’t usually think about Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Elisabetta Sirani and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. But they existed and they were amazing, exceptional women in their times.”

A report from the National Endowment for the Arts says women make up almost half of the artists in the U.S., but statistics show they get far less exposure and recognition compared to men.

Sterling said between 2 and 7 percent of art on the walls in major museums, including contemporary museums, is by women, and women artists only account for about 30 percent of art displayed in galleries.

“Sometimes you think about 30 percent and you say, ‘Well, that’s good!’ But then you realize that 70 percent is men and you say, ‘Well, the women really need to be foregrounded in a bigger way,’” Sterling said.

To change the numbers, the NMWA launched a social media campaign in March of 2016 called #5WomenArtists. Since its inception, more than 1,000 cultural institutions from seven continents and 47 countries have joined the museum during Women’s History Month with programming and installations that celebrate women artists.

This year, The Tate pledged that 95 percent of the work published on its social media channels in March will feature women artists. Italy’s famed Uffizi Gallery will also promote more women artists on social media and on its walls, and London’s National Gallery said it will highlight the work of Artemisia Gentileschi with a major exhibition on the artist in 2020.

Sterling said she hopes to one day change the campaign to #10WomenArtists, but for now, there’s still work to do.

“We’ve made some progress. Now, you find that people can maybe name three, but naming five is still hard,” she said.


Want to familiarize yourself with more female artists?

Sterling suggests checking out the work of two featured artists at NMWA:

  • On display through April 14, Pakistani-American artist Ambreen Butt’s work “deals with the condition of being a woman and from being from a country that is in conflict and that has issues related to women,” Sterling said.
  • Opening March 22, Ursula von Rydingsvard’s large-scale wooden sculptures will move into the museum’s second-floor galleries. Sterling said it’s the first time the artist’s work will be shown in D.C.

Interested in participating in the museum’s Women’s History Month programs?

  • The museum will host its annual Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on March 23 at 10 a.m., which is part of a global initiative that focuses on adding and improving Wikipedia entries related to women artists. Last year, more than 4,000 people participated around the world and created or improved 22,000 Wikipedia pages. Bring a laptop.
  • As part of the PEN/Faulkner’s Literary Conversations series, NMWA will host a “Fantastic Women” talk to discuss the work of three important female writers March 10 at 7 p.m.
  • And on International Women’s Day (March 8), the museum will extend its hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will host gallery talks throughout the day.

Check out more Women’s History Month events on the museum’s website.

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