“Why have there been no great women artists?”

The question posed by Linda Nochlin is a statement in and of itself.  It does not ask IF there are any great women artists.  It asks WHY there are not any great women artists.  Her boldness is refreshing inside of a topic that has been gently whispered about in the past, especially within academic disciplines such as art history.  It is said that the only thing that is constant is change itself, yet when a traditional area of study is challenged with a progressive idea, it is met with the same old crusty standards the discipline was founded on.  In this case, the discipline of art history, perpetuated by the Western elite, have gone on for far too long with their blinded eye towards the Other (race and feminism.)

Nochlin is forward and witty in her essay “Why have there been no great women artists?”. She unapologetically calls out the “white Western male viewpoint unconsciously accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian” (Nochlin, p 1) and the social constructs that created the early art world.

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What I found most interesting from Nochlin and Pollack’s writing was the commentary on educational systems barring women from becoming artists.  Obviously art was and is a deep, intense craft.  However, with the rise of contemporary freelance and art for the sake of expression, I was never taught to take it seriously as a discipline–that was something I had to teach myself.  I have always believed art to be of the most serious and valuable areas of study, however my surroundings have rejected that.  The cut of art programs and high school teasing (“‘you’re an ‘art kid,’ leave the science to us” STEM mentality and the “good luck having a home and food being an artist” type of thing) caused me to see art as societally arbitrary.   It makes a great deal of sense that women couldn’t have become  “Michelangelos” because they were never given the opportunity to become apprentices and were never commissioned by the white, male pope to paint the Sistine Chapel.  In fact, it would have been unthinkable.  Women were mothers and home workers, anything other than that is “child’s play.”

It’s encouraging to hear essays like Nochlin’s call out the Western gaze for its unacceptable superiority.  And it’s encouraging to hear Pollack want not to destruct the study of art history and all of its accumulated knowledge but expand into it, deeper to the heart of the discipline.  Art history is not dead.  In many aspects, it has just begun.

Michaela Stock, Hope College 2020

Image: preview16.jpg

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