Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?  

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Incipit:

While the recent upsurge of feminist activity in this country has indeed been a liberating one, its force has been chiefly emotional--personal, psychological, and subjective--centered, like the other radical movements to which it is related, on the present and its immediate needs, rather than on historical analysis of the basic intellectual issues which the feminist attack on the status quo automatically raises.[1]

Conclusions

I have tried to deal with one of the perennial questions used to challenge women's demand for true, rather than token, equality, by examining the whole erroneous intellectual substructure upon which the question "Why have there been no great women artists?" is based; by questioning the validity of the formulation of so-called problems in general and the "problem" of women specifically; and then, by probing some of the limitations of the discipline of art history itself. By stressing the institutional--that is, the public--rather than the individual, or private, preconditions for achievement or the lack of it in the arts,I have tried to provide paradigm for the investigation of other area in the field. By examining in some detail a single instance of deprivation or disadvantage--the unavailability of nude models to women art students-I have suggested that it was indeed institutionally made impossible for women to achieve artistic excellence, or success, on the samr footing as men, no matter what the potency of their so called talent or genius. The existence of a tiny band of successful, if not great, women artists throughout history does nothing to gainsay this fact, any more than does the existence of a few superstars or token achievers among the members of any minority groups. And while great achievement is rare and difficult at best, it is still rare and more difficult if, while you work, you must at the same time wrestle with inner demons of self-doubt and. guilt and outer monsters of ridicule or patronizing encouragement, neither of which have any specific connection with the quality of the art work as such.
What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought--and true greatness--are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.[2]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" is a 1971 essay by American art historian Linda Nochlin. It is considered a pioneering essay for both feminist art history and feminist art theory.

Content

In this essay, Nochlin explores the institutional – as opposed to the individual – obstacles that have prevented women in the West from succeeding in the arts. She divides her argument into several sections, the first of which takes on the assumptions implicit in the essay's title, followed by "The Question of the Nude," "The Lady's Accomplishment," "Successes," and "Rosa Bonheur." In her introduction, she acknowledges "the recent upsurge of feminist activity" in America as a condition for her interrogation of the ideological foundations of art history, while also invoking John Stuart Mill's suggestion that "we tend to accept whatever is as natural". In her conclusion, she states: "I have tried to deal with one of the perennial questions used to challenge women's demand for true, rather than token, equality by examining the whole erroneous intellectual substructure upon which the question "Why have there been no great women artists?" is based; by questioning the validity of the formulation of so-called problems in general and the "problem" of women specifically; and then, by probing some of the limitations of the discipline of art history itself."

Publication history and legacy

First published in Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness (eds. Vivian Gornick and Barbara Moran; New York: Basic, 1971), it was later reprinted in ArtNews. The essay was bundled with other essays and photographs and published as Art and Sexual Politics: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (eds. Thomas B. Hess and Elizabeth C. Baker; New York, Macmillan, 1971). The article is reprinted regularly since then, including in Nochlin's Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays.

"Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" is generally considered required reading for the fields of feminist art history and feminist art theory inasmuch as it calls out the institutional barriers to the visual arts that women in the Western tradition historically faced. Nochlin considers the history of women's art education as well as the nature of art and of artistic genius. The essay has also served as an important impetus for the rediscovery of women artists, followed as it was by the exhibition Women Artists: 1550-1950. Eleanor Munro called it "epochal", and according to Miriam van Rijsingen "it is considered the genesis of feminist art history".

The essay's title and content have inspired a number of essays and publications about the absence of women in certain professional fields, such as "Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?" by Charlotte Druckman.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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