Equality in the Art World and Best Practices for Women Artists: A Discussion with Joyce Owens

On Saturday, September 17, Woman Made Gallery and the UIC Gender & Women’s Studies Program hosted a conversation led by artist and professor Joyce Owens about unequal representation of women and women of color in the art world. There was an audience of about thirty men and women of various backgrounds: artists, collectors, educators, and patrons.

It was a collaborative discussion, starting with the topic of women and their representation in the art historical canon. We went on to discuss the lives and art of specific Illinois women artists who have gone under-appreciated, particularly Anna Tyler and Margaret Burroughs. From there we touched on some topics that concern women artists in particular such as the struggle of balancing a family and artistic career, making money as a woman artist, learning how to value one’s work, promoting one’s work, supporting other women artists, collecting, and thinking critically about one’s work and how to be discerning about where you show it. Everyone in the audience participated in the conversation and we had a fulfilling and insightful discussion with many different voices represented.

After just graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Photography, this discussion was especially interesting to me, particularly when it came to the subject of MFA programs. During the conversation I learned that most MFA graduates will leave their fields ten years after graduating. Considering that most programs will cost around $100,000 (unless you receive financial aid or go to school in your home state) it is a large investment to leave behind after a few years. We brought up the costs versus the benefits of going to school in an art hub like New York or LA, but not receiving any financial aid. Many women in the discussion expressed that it does not matter where you go to school because receiving more education could never be seen as negative in the job market. They also said that you don’t have to take the art star route to become a successful artist, which is refreshing for a recent grad to hear.

Another point in the discussion that was relevant to me as a recent graduate was when Joyce Owens spoke about taking a critical approach to decision making when it comes to where and with whom one shows their work. Depending on the context, certain establishments or other artists have the potential to diminish the value of one’s work. It is not enough to say that your art is out in the world, but that the people and places showing your work value and care about it.

Finally, this discussion confirmed what I believe makes successful artists: having confidence and caring about your work, thinking critically about the world, and understanding that helping others helps you.

-Christen Calloway, Gallery Intern


Joyce Owen’s tips for artists 

Advice to artists: for some, you may have to pretend at first:

  1. Self identify that you are an artist
  2. Have confidence in your work
  3. Approach this profession as your business
  4. Use your medium well
  5. Work hard and often-every day is good
  6. Be very self-critical
  7. Find your voice and don’t be afraid if it changes.
  8. Make what is authentic to you-don’t blindly follow trends
  9. Write an artist statement, let a good writer edit it, and read other artists statements
  10. Work more
  11. Leave your studio sometimes, see art by others

Where you exhibit can improve your visibility or not.

  1. Ask questions
  2. Be clear about your expectations
  3. Never show work you would not buy from someone else
  4. Never donate work of your own that you would not buy
  5. Consider where you donate
  6. Meet new artists
  7. Surf the net to find advice: there are a lot of good places
  8. including CAR, CAC, WMG, Womenarts.org,
  9. Pay-to-play galleries should be researched carefully
  10. Send a thank you to everyone who writes about your work
  11. Good luck!

Links to debates about the value of an MFA degree:

LA Gallery Owner’s own survey and statistics



New York Magazine article


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