“What is a muse?” This simple question posed to female artists in a new video campaign by Saatchi Art forces you to reflect. In art history, women are most often portrayed as passive, vulnerable—often naked. In a museum, you’re more likely to encounter a female nude than work by a female artist. In 2019, only 30% of artists represented in brick-and-mortar galleries in the US and UK are women.
This statistic—shared to us by Jeanne Anderson, Saatchi Art’s general manager—is all the more disheartening when compared to the online gallery’s recent data: In 2018, 54% of the platform’s best-selling artists were women. On March 1, in conjunction with Women’s History Month, Saatchi Art is launching its Refuse to Be the Muse campaign—an initiative designed to showcase women in art.
“The concept came out of this specific cultural moment in which women are increasingly refusing to accept the status quo and are making their voices be heard,” explains Anderson. “There are so many women artists making inspiring work today but who remain under-represented in traditional galleries and museums.” The women-led company makes it a priority to promote diversity and equal representation in the art world. Their Refuse to Be the Muse campaign is a celebration of women in art today—and the increasing power that women have in art, not as muses, but as storytellers.
“Women have long been used as muses for art, and it’s long overdue that they are recognized for being on the other side—a creator, a narrator, an artist,” Lisa Krannichfeld—a Chinese American artist living in Little Rock, Arkansas—told us. Her work underpinned with a subversive narrative surrounding femininity has been exhibited in the US, Asia, Australia, and Europe. “We all have unique stories to tell, and how tragic the art world would be if the stories of just a select few were told?” she muses. “Art is universal, and the artists taking part in the making of it should come from all walks of life.”
With movements like #MeToo lifting women up and breaking barriers, women in art are more important than ever to give these movements a fresh perspective. “There is no better time than now to showcase female artists who are able to narrate what it feels like to be living in these transitional and historic times,” says Erin Armstrong, a Canadian Saatchi artist whose impressive client list includes The Drake hotel, Nike, Anthropologie, and Portia de Rossi. “Different viewpoints are essential to pushing boundaries and the world forward, and that’s what occurs when you give women a voice equal to a man’s.”
Various perspectives in art are important not just when it comes to genders but also ethnicities, orientations, and backgrounds. “To be a black woman in art is to create, endure, and claim space within the cannon,” says artist Lisa Hunt, whose graphic black-and-gold Art Deco work has caught the eye of curators, designers, and publishers—even landing her the cover of Grace Bonney’s The New York Times best-selling book In the Company of Women. “Now more than ever,” she adds, “giving women a platform to shine just makes sense.”
Kelly Puissegur, an LA-based artist that Saatchi Art commissioned to create two original works, has become a bit of a face for the movement. She creates punchy work aimed at empowering women who aspire to be more than just an inspiration for others. “I think showcasing women in art is a beautiful way to draw attention to their artistic achievements,” she says. “I’m so happy to be featured with so many talented women in a campaign that promotes equality for women in the art world.”
Women have traditionally been portrayed as passive throughout art history in large part because they haven’t been equally represented as artists. Now that companies like Saatchi Art are making a case for equal representation, we can see more women in art for who they really are: powerful and successful creators in their own right.
Discover more of our favorite pieces from the collection: