diversity and accounting for the unassimilable

Archie Barry

Countess @ Campbelltown Art Centre (Part I)

Countess Editorial

Countess @ Campbelltown Art Centre (Pt. II)

Countess Editorial

representation at Sydney

Miranda Samuels

Gallery Director’

Rebecca Gallo

secondary art

Miranda Samuels

  1. Clear Expectations
    Guidelines for Institutions, Galleries and Curators Working with Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Diverse Artists
    by Spence Messih & Archie Barry, copy-edited by Bobuq Sayed and proofread by EO Gill
→ Countess Report (2019)
30.11.2017, Miranda Samuels

secondary art



The data collected and presented by Countess since 2008 has revealed that gender inequity in the contemporary Australian art world exists at both a tertiary and professional level.

Despite there being far more female students in post school art education and training courses, women are under-represented at all levels of professional exposure (The Countess Report 2014). This raises questions about whether the gender differences are reflected in earlier education of students. The following report is an initial exploration of some available data on secondary visual arts curriculum and teaching.

The report looks specifically at Australian secondary art education to determine whether a formal gender bias is visible in education at this level. While we recognise that there is a well documented prevalence of gender biases in society in general, our question is whether curriculum and teaching approaches reinforce or question these.

Countess believes that in order to remedy the gender bias in the tertiary and professional art sector, it is necessary to examine the earlier stages of education and consider what and how our future artists are learning about art today.


This is a limited initial study that examines available published documents by the NSW, VIC and WA curriculum setting bodies, including content from past exam papers and associated markers’ feedback.

The curriculum setting bodies in each state do not specify exactly what art historical content is looked at in classrooms as this is often decided on by the school, art department and teachers. As such, our data collection has relied on the collateral material released by the state bodies.

For the purposes of this initial study, Victoria and New South Wales has been focussed on with some reference to the situation in Western Australia. The report summarises our findings, but more complete data collection is available on request.


Female students are the majority in secondary visual arts classrooms. This is consistent with the gender makeup in tertiary art institutions.

  • In NSW in 2016, 71% of students enrolled in HSC Visual Arts were female and 29% were male.
  • In VIC in 2016, 75% of students enrolled in VCE Art were female and 25% were male. This conforms with Countess data collection on tertiary educational Institutions that found that those graduating with degrees in fine art or visual art in 2014 were 74% female and 26% male.
  • In year 12 exams in NSW, VIC and WA, students are asked to respond to work by male artists much more frequently than work by female artists.
  • 17.5% of artists included in section I of the HSC (NSW) exam papers from 2001-2016 have been female. Of 6 artists included in the 2016 paper, 1 was female
  • 27% of artists included in section A and B of the VCE (VIC) exam paper from 2001-2016 have been female. In the 2015 paper there were only 14%.
  • 6% of artists included in the WA year 12 exam paper in 2016 were female. There were no Australian female artists included in the WA 2016 paper.
  • Countess did not find any transgender or gender non-conforming artists included in VCE or HSC exam papers between 2001-2016.
  • Case studies of artists in classrooms are heavily male dominated.
  • 24% of commonly cited artist case studies from the 2005 HSC exam were by female artists, according to markers feedback documents.


Female students are the majority in Australian classrooms however male artists dominate the art historical content.
The content in final exam papers is heavily male dominated. This is consistent between NSW and VIC and has not improved since 2001.

Data is not published on proportion of students studying art in secondary school who are gender non-conforming, which suggests it may not be collected.

Work by Indigenous artists is seldom included in exam papers. The comparatively high number of artists of Asian heritage show greater focus on international artists.

Work by artists who are trans/gender non-conforming is not represented in exam papers.


Resources for visual arts departments at schools to assist secondary teachers in incorporating case studies on a broad range of historical and contemporary female and gender diverse artists into their courses. If more material was available there will be less of a reliance on male canonical artists.

Resources for teachers and schools on feminism, gender diversity and existence of entrenched biases within the art world, informed by Countess data. These issues could fit within units of study based on personal, social and ethical understanding.
State education boards must consider gender and cultural diversity when setting exam papers.

In addition to our findings on gender, we discovered that in year 12 exams, students are seldom asked to respond to work by Indigenous artists. In NSW between 2001-2016 only 5% of artists whose work appeared as unseen images in section I of the HSC exam were Indigenous Australian artists. Since 2007 there has only been work by 1 Indigenous Australian artist included in section I of the HSC exam, this was in 2012. This must also be remedied.