Sunday 7 March 2021

Pale Blue Eyes

Not so long ago I was with four other artists at my gallery and I noticed we all had blue eyes. Wondering if this was a mere coincidence, I decided to test this by finding out the eye colour of the artists on my bookshelf.
Of 249 artists, 148 had blue eyes, 45 had any of the other eye colours and of the remaining 56 I couldn't determine which eye colour they had. As it turns out, a remarkable number of artist's portraits are done in black and white.
Either way, this means that between 59.4 and 76.6% of artists in my collection have blue eyes, which seems like a strange ratio given that only about 8-10% of the world's population has blue-tinted eyes.
Being Dutch, however, I would expect that these numbers can be explained by over-representation of northern European artists in my personal collection. In these countries between 50 and 90% of the population have blue eyes, so my results seem to be in line with an expected average.

To further test this hypothesis, I charted the eye colours of the 282 artists from the list of American Visionaries that was published by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2001. About 25 to 35% of the population possesses blue eyes in the United States of America, so we should expect about 80-90 of these artists to have blue eyes. 
After counting them, I however came up with 115 artists who have blue eyes, 78 who had another eye colour and a further 89 were undetermined, mostly because they passed away before the 1960's and colour photography wasn't commonplace yet. 
This means that between 40.7 and 59.6% of these American artists had blue eyes, significantly more than what one would expect in a random sample of the population.
The explanation for this is the same in my opinion, that a relatively high number of those artists hail from a comparably well-to-do northern European background.

Again, as only about ten percent of the world's population has blue eyes, it could very well be argued that if one wishes to correct this over-representation and generate greater diversity in the arts, then actively excluding artists with blue eyes might be an excellent course of action.
If that in turn seems like an arbitrary and perhaps unfair distinction which will inevitably exclude worthwhile artists due to some physical characteristic that has nothing to do with their work, then I guess that's just a natural consequence of any kind of measure that excludes one group in an attempt to include another.