Dr. Helen Gorrill – PhD Abstract

Gendered Economic and Symbolic Values in Contemporary British Painting

This thesis provides a contribution to knowledge by exploring whether paintings made by contemporary British women artists are perceived as ‘feminine’, and whether they are subsequently (de)valued economically and symbolically.  Symbolic, cultural and social capitals may be gendered and valued or devalued accordingly by institutional stakeholders such as museums, thus converting back into economic capital and maintaining gender inequality through substantial pay gaps for artists.  The study found that there are now fewer differences in the painterly qualities of work by women and men, and discovered the emergence of a new meta-theory of ‘androgynous aesthetics’ within contemporary British painting.  As this new meta-theory suggests that there are no aesthetic reasons for women’s painting to be valued lower than that of men, the persistent presence of archaic values in socially controlled stereotypical behaviour is suggested to have significantly contributed to discrimination against women painters.

The study introduces a new methodology to the field: paintings were analysed from London auction data and UK arts prizes within the timescales 1992-94 and 2012-14. A database of over 40,000 data points and 1,031 contemporary British paintings was created in order to allow complex statistical manipulation of values, pictorial qualities and artist biographical details. Interviews were also carried out with 14 British female and male painters who have received symbolic recognition, or whose work has appeared at London auctions.

Building on work by key theorists such as Linda Nochlin, Griselda Pollock and Olav Velthuis, therefore revealing the factors which are perceived to impact upon the gendered values in contemporary painting, this study fills a gap in knowledge and highlights a significant flaw in previous studies where gender has been assumed to be a neutral category. The thesis therefore provides a discursive platform on which to work towards equilibrium in the value systems of our art world, and to suggest institutional strategies for improving gender equality in the UK.