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In Art, A Male-Female Difference

As long as I can remember, I’ve been troubled by what I have here called “the male gap,” the fact that art seems to be much more appreciated by women than men. At least it’s women who go to museums more frequently. I don’t think that’s because of museum hours anymore — though it used to be. Most women now work, and museums have more night hours. But women still outnumber men at art museums — museum directors tell me that, and even government statistics, weak as they are on arts numbers, bear that out.

ManatMoMAI think it’s partly because viewing art isn’t seen as a manly activity. Art-making is, but not art-looking.

A long time ago, I wanted to write a piece called Real Men Do Love Art — a takeoff, for those don’t remember, on the 1982 book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. I never did, but part of my argument was going to be about collecting — the competitive aspect of collecting. Men like to compete more than women do.

My idea had been ignored (by me) for a long time, but I thought of it several days ago when I was talking with an editor at The New York Times. I mentioned the big gift by Leonard Lauder to the Met and added that most of the big collectors, both of the past and the present, were men. I told her why I thought it was so. That’s how The Art of the Hunt, which was published in the Sunday Review section today, came about. Of course, I did reporting in between the thought and the writing to back up my thoughts.

There are exceptions, of course. I say that. The question now is how to make more men, who can’t compete in buying art for lack of money, go to museums. Art appreciation shouldn’t be considered a feminine activity. Here’s a thought for corroboration: In French, “art” is a masculine noun.



  1. Interesting observation, but why do you think is that when more Man accumulate wonderful collection ?

  2. I admire the deftness with which you present this case (in the NYT), because you’ve managed to entirely avoid sexism. But I do think that often the men have had the money and the women have had the taste and the will–after all, the Museum of Modern Art was founded by three extraordinary women (one of whom happened to be married to John D. Rockefeller). While those three were laying the foundations of modernism in America, the richest men of the age were competing to buy Old Masters. In 1912, Louisine Havemeyer bought a Degas (now in the Met) at auction for $95,700, the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist till then. The men became interested in modern art, I think, only when the prices began to rise.

    One further point: we forget how many legal restrictions were placed on women, even in liberal countries like the U.S. and England, until relatively recently. Women were often not allowed to take out loans or buy property in their own names and without a male relative’s co-signature. Even rich women needed to work through surrogates. It was really only after WW I that women began to have the power to control their own fortunes.

    • One hundred years ago, almost half of the people who bought works of art from the Armory Show were women. Based on receipts and ledgers, 34 out of 76 people were women but if you take into consideration the women who made the selection but had a man write out the check, the number is closely to half of the buyers. Yet we heard more about the rich men who bought a lot than we do about the “less important” names.
      Judith’s points are well taken but remember that not all collectors are “hunters” and some are “gatherers.”

  3. “Art” in French is masculine because art-making is taken very seriously in the country of Poussin and Cézanne. Nevertheless, a large portion of our audience is female as everywhere else in the world…

  4. Interesting sharing.. and as @carla say great observation. Art is a medium to express every thing and it’s a good example of creativity..

  5. Judith, My experience is that the compulsion two collect breaks down into two different veins. For those who collect dead artists, you are right, it’s about the thrill of the hunt. But for those who collect contemporary, living artists it’s much more about the vicarious experience. And that vicarious behavior is essentially the same with music fans, which is no where near as gender based.

  6. That is a wonderful think piece, Judy and worthy of some study. In the case of your example, Leonard Lauder i know that he really does enjoy and study the art. This is true of his brother, Ronald, as well. There are male collectors particularly in the contemporary world but not exclusively who collect as if it was a competition and want to spend more than anyone else. Being as old as i am, however, i have never considered them art collectors the way i learned the term. The true collector is passionate and will follow and object for years if necessary to buy the piece that he loves. Thankfully i have known a number of these art collector/connoisseurs. Don’t be surprised if sooner or later i take off on your thought

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