Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

On Tuesday, November 19th, we’ll discuss

  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing, pages 83-155;
  • Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”; and
  • Gould, pages 137-155.

N.B. ALL students must post comments on the Nochlin piece; you can reply to this post for that purpose.

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15 Responses to Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

  1. shimon herzog says:

    Shimon Herzog
    A Woman Artist
    Nochlin’s article discusses the question and theories that attempted to answer: “why have there been no great women artists.” Nochlin dismisses the vast array of theories to answer the question, from the extremely sexist to the feminist theories. On one side of the spectrum, the sexist theory for why there are no great female artists is that human beings with wombs are unable to create anything that is significant. On the other end of the spectrum, the feminist approach to explain why there is are no great female artists is that women create a different kind of great art. Nochlin dismisses both of these approaches to the question because they do not address the essence of the question.
    Nochlin argues that it is incorrect to state that great women artists are different than great men artists. There are many other examples of different arbitrary groups that do not have any greats, e.g. there are no great Lithuanian jazz players or Eskimo tennis players. It is incorrect to say that these examples do have greats, because it is a fact that they do not. In addition, in the same way that great women writers, such as Sylvia Plath and Bronte’s style of writing is comparable to that of their male counterparts, women artists can be compared to men artists in their respective time periods.
    The reason that there have not been great women in art, according to Nochlin has to do with the lack of opportunities for women in the art. She argues that it is incorrect to believe that art is different from any other field that requires proper training and opportunities. It is incorrect to assume that great artists are born great, and that they are a type of genius who are born with mysterious powers which makes them great artists. Every artist was a student or apprentice to a different artist and some also had a family background of artists. Nochlin argues that these types of educational institution were not available to woman as readily as men. Not only did artists that were already established look for men apprentices, only males in the family were taught art, and art school only accepted males. Moreover, even when women were able to study art, they came from families that were extremely wealthy. These women were only able to study art as a hobby, and not as a profession that they would have to support themselves with. According to Nochlin, it is this lack of training opportunities that explains why there have not been great female artists.

  2. Evgenia Gorovaya says:

    Linda Nochlin begins her essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” by drawing attention to the fact that she will be taking a feminist stance different from most of today’s feminist activity. Instead of driving her argument forward with appeals to one’s emotions, she will provide historical analysis. She continues by pointing out that by discussing this “woman problem,” she will provide a paradigm for discussion of other social issues. We should not answer this question with respect to what is wrong with the women, but rather what is wrong with the institution of art. Nochlin proves this by discussing the “semi-religious conception of the artist’s role” that is popular in the nineteenth century. Great artists would often have romanticized stories accompanying their successes, such as having their talent and genius prevail against all odds (a lowly position in life, or ignoring their studies). If men, fueled by genius and talent, can achieve greatness through these odds, does that mean that women simply do not have the genius or talent necessary to prevail through the opposition they face? Nochlin points out that there have been no great artists from the aristocracy, either. Do aristocrats also not have this talent and genius that drives other male artists? The answer is that the expectations of women and aristocrats in society simply did not leave them any time to truly devote themselves to art.
    Nochlin also reminds us that there were less opportunities presented to women to let them become great artists. In order to become great in visual art, one needs specific training and experience. One integral part of said training is learning how to draw the nude, a practice which was denied to women. Nochlin equates this to “a medical student [being] denied the opportunity to dissect or even examine the naked human body.” Furthermore, women were excluded from the apprenticeship system, which, in art education, “was almost the only key to success.” Nochlin draws an interesting parallel to written art, explaining women’s success in that field: there are no fundamental techniques that one has to learn in a formal setting, save reading an writing, in order to become proficient and great in writing poetry or novels. Therefore, because women could not be excluded from any type of education, they were on a more level playing field with the opposite sex.
    This relatively level playing field, however, still did not allow for many great female novelists or poets because of the ever-present feminine mystique. Women who were great at one thing were considered unfeminine and un-marriageable, for their proficiency would “draw away her thoughts from others and fix them on herself.” Women were encouraged, instead, to be able to dabble in several fields, so that they could prove useful in several different situations. However, they still couldn’t win; this superficial dabbling manifested contempt from the serious male career-man. A woman’s frivolous activities away from her family and home “fall under the rubric of diversion, selfishness, egomania, or, at the unspoken extreme, castration.” A woman was not allowed to focus on herself, even at the most superficial levels. Her whole life was supposed to be devoted to her husband, her home, and her children.
    The few women artists who have succeeded in making great visual art had help from a strong male artistic influence. Even with this help, the women had to adopt masculine characteristics of autonomy and independence in speech, thought, and action, which was not an easy feat in the face of social antagonism.
    Nochlin proves that there have been no great women artists due to institutional, not individual reasons.

  3. apalathingal says:

    Linda Nochlin takes a different approach to addressing a familiar problem. Why have there been no great women artists? That is indeed the question. Instead of attempting to pinpoint what is “wrong” with women, she goes to the source itself. The source is society. The problem of a lack of great female artists starts from the restrictions and blatant ignorance of society. According to Nochlin, art is a “social institution.” In order for women to become great artists society has to provide opportunities and support. Great artists require education and hands-on experience. If women cannot receive anything of that sort, then how can they become great artists? Nochlin states, “This question “Why have there been no great women artists?” has lead us to the conclusion, so far that art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, “influenced” by previous artists. And more vaguely and superficially, by “social forces” but rather, that the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself, occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions, be they art academics, systems of patronage, mythologies of the divine creator, artist as he-man, or social outcast.” Producing great artists is comparable to building certain things. Great artists are composed of many values like proper knowledge, intellect, ability, and courage. If society does not allow these “pieces” to be given then the “final product” of a great artist cannot be achieved. Nochlin says that society often restricts women and their freedom to live life and learn freely. It is said that drawing nude models is one of the most difficult tasks in art. So if women were denied to even try such a challenge, then how can they excel as artists? Among all the restrictions educationally, women were also restricted in a stereotypical manner. Women were believed to be in existence to stay home and look after her family. If she stays true to this ideal then she cannot find time to do anything beyond the walls of her house. Ultimately, Nochlin highlights external influences as the reasons behind the lack of great women artists. The problem is within the system itself, not within the individual. Opportunities are the key to success. If such “tools” do not exist even the greatest of people cannot achieve much. A person alone can be brilliant but without the chances to succeed that individual is nothing. All such opportunities were given to men and that is why women were not in abundance in the field of art.

  4. danitsa andaluz says:

    In “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Linda Nochlin first addresses the usual answers to this question. The first is that “the rarity of female artists is in fact an illusion” because there have been plenty of great female artists who have been overlooked or ignored and subsequently their work has disappeared from history. Nochlin does not believe that history has been manipulated enough to have completely eliminated female artist from history. The second response to this question is that female greatness in art is different from male greatness because a woman’s experience in life is very different from that of a man. She argues that this could be considered true if somehow the work of female artists shared some attributes in contrast to the work of men. However, “in every instance, women artists and writers would seem to be closer to other artists and writers of their own period and outlook than they are to each other.” Nochlin argues that both of these responses fail to recognize that there really have been no great female artists. This response comes partially from the misconception of “genius”, the idea that talent is “embedded in the person” and will make itself known no matter what and the underestimation of environmental factors, institutions that encourage artistic development. She says that similarly, there have been no great Eskimo artists or Black American artists and this is to blame on the institutions that foster great artists and not on the lack of talent among these groups. These institutions such as the great art schools of Europe were designed to include and exclude certain people, such as women. Until rather recently, women were not allowed to receive the same education as men or to explore the same careers, therefore they have not been able to reach the same potential as men in these fields. In answering the question “why have there been no great women artists?” we must not analyze the lack of talent of females but society’s inequity of opportunities for females. How can we expect there to be great women artists if they are not given the chance to reach equal standing with men?

    • Ruby Cabuya says:

      The point that Nochlin makes is that women artists do have the chance to reach equal standing with men, however it is not within the social norm for that to occur. Throughout this piece, Nochlin asks the question of “Why are there no great women artists?” without directly answering it; instead she finds other prompts concerning why the “Woman Problem” exists in the first place. Women are given the shorter end of the stick not only in art, but also in literature. This is because of the social norm to connect works of art or collections of writing by women as one genre. It is within the power of art and literature historians (who are predominantly “white males of the West”) to group such pieces together. The grouping of women’s art is impossible because there is no similar characteristic in all art by women that could bring them to a single category, other than the fact that they were created by women, as you have mentioned. It is different from categorizing the different styles of art, such as cubism (as she mentioned), or classical chiaroscuro. What Nochlin was aiming to answer is why a woman’s role in society has to play a large part in her creation of art. She readdresses the common questions brought up in most of readings thus far, being “what is art”, “what is art’s purpose”, “how do we view art”, etc. Ideally, we would view art created by women the exact way we would when applying the “aesthetic attitude” (Stolnitz) to any other artists’ work regardless of where he or she came from in the social spectrum.

  5. lilokuo says:

    Nochlin presented her statement in such a way that the question addresses other spheres where no greatest from women are acknowledge or emphasized. She goes on to mention the impact of what is deemed “natural” and “what is”; the fact that society has accepted the social norm of implicitly assuming the roles of great artists and intellects to be male, but to stand up and challenge such a notion would be a great progress for changing the game. In a sense all political movements are games, where the activists must keep in mind all the effects of their actions; Nochlin mentions that by trying to answer “Why have there been no great women artists?”, the negative implications of the question is then unawarely reinforced. Such as when people make a big deal of great achievements made by females for minorities, the mere “surprise” or emphasis on the issue reinforces the abnormal nature of greatness coming from these unorthodox artists.

    In the paragraph where Nochlin mentions all the female artists and authors making the point that there is no set feminine style, thus it can not be the merit or style of the art that is being reject, but rather its origin. When Nochlin goes on to talk about how art is “neither a sob story nor a confidential whisper,” as an artist I can understand, because most of the time we are so invested in perfecting the application and making sure of right proportions and correct hues of colors that the end result should really be called a WORK of art rather than a work of ART. However, as the institution has gradually shifted from the traditional commissioned portraits paid by well off patrons to the modern day art that are done more for personal satisfactions, I would have to disagree with Nochlin that such all encompassing statement still holds true to todays art realm.

    One interesting thing that came to mind when Nochlin mentioned the possibility of female work being a separate category of art and that it should be evaluated in a different frame work, was one of the exhibit in the Brooklyn Art Museum. This particular exhibit showcased quilts, and this immediately supported the claim made by Nochlin that female artists often create art of a different form. Another exhibit at the Met was of dresses from the 18th century.

    The piece then shifts to tackle a political situation, the various “problems” facing discriminated groups and their disadvantages in society. The thoughts can be related to the “glass ceiling” affect, where equality between the sexes seems to be making great strides but there are still many limits that hinders complete equality.

    Basically the whole piece addresses the political and social chains that prevent the possibility of having many great women artists. The idea that the accepted social norm and natural hierarchy of gender and race has and still will try to hold on to power and prevent in-balance that can topple the system. I agree with Nochlin that “art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual,” but that “the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself.”

    The achievement of any great artist is not dictated by the social acknowledge or label of “greatness,” the merit of a piece of art can not and should not be altered by the market price of the art. I must ask why do feminists feel the need to fight for this type if validation? Asking for validation and approval only display uncertainty of ones own abilities. Perhaps other might argue that it is an issue of respect and equality, but if self-respect is strong enough, others will learn to respect you as well.

  6. Daniel Vargas says:

    The question of feminism is wrongly on the present and immediate needs; we must look to the past and find the origin of the problem. Historically the position of woman is as an acknowledged outsider, while white male position is accepted as natural (the hidden “he”). Male domination has to be overcome to make a just social order and to gain a more accurate view of historical situations.
    People might say, “There have been no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.” By falling for the trap one might dig up examples of worthy or underappreciated women artists. These add historical knowledge but do not question the assumptions made. By attempting to answer it, the negative implications are reinforced. Others might respond by saying, “there is a different kind of greatness for women’s art,” but there is no such common qualities of “femininity” that link the styles of women artists — in every instance, women artists are closer to other artists of their own period rather than to each other.
    The problem lies in the misconception of what art is. Usually we think of art as a “direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms;” art is not that, but “a self-consistent language of form given temporally defined conventions, which have to be learned.”
    There are no women equivalents for famous artists, any more than black American equivalents. If there were “hidden” great women artists, or if there should be different standards, then women have achieved the same status as men. But we know that things are oppressive and discouraging to all those who did not have the good fortune to be born white, middle class, and male.
    The white male perspective gain power through “problems,” which are made to rationalize the bad conscience of those in power: the problem posed by Americans as the “East Asian Problem,” East Asians may view as the “American Problem”; the so-called “Poverty Problem” might be viewed as the “Wealth Problem,” by those in the ghettos. The “Woman Problem” should not be viewed through the eyes of the dominant male power. Women must conceive of themselves as equal subjects and must be willing to look the facts of their situation with high degree of emotional and intellectual commitment. They must be willing to create a world in which equal achievement will be not only made possible but actively encouraged by social institutions.
    The source of the oppression is that men demand submission and unqualified affection. The woman is weakened by the internalized demands of society and material goods and comforts (since this gives them more to lose).
    We view art as made by great artists, or Geniuses. Genius has been defined as “an atemporal and mysterious power somehow embedded in the person of the Great Artist.” To go against the definitions of art and Genius would reveal the entire substructure upon which the profession of art history is based. The magical aura surrounding the arts gives birth to myths. Talent always seems to have manifested itself very early, independent of external encouragement. This makes art into a substitute religion.
    Even though no serious contemporary art historian takes such obvious fairy tales at their face value, even the most sophisticated investigations of great artists use the golden-nugget theory of genius and the free-enterprise conception of individual achievement. Because of this internal concept of genius it is easy to reason why women aren’t in the art world, they simply do not have the golden nugget of artistic genius. But the aristocracy has always provided the audience for arts and has contributed little to the creation of art itself. Despite having education and leisure, they seem to not have the genius. So it is not a term of genius but devotion to a profession. Moreover, development of reason and imagination (aka genius) is a dynamic activity and an activity of a subject in a situation and only appears to be innate to the unsophisticated observer. So art is not about genius but of a social structure and is determined by social institutions.
    In the past, the problem lies in the nature of given social institutions and what they forbid in various classes. Nudes were central to the training programs but women were not allowed to draw them. To be deprived of this ultimate stage of training meant to be deprived of the possibility of creating major art works. Similar to a medical student being denied the opportunity to examine the naked human body.
    It is all right for a woman to reveal herself naked-as-an object for a group of men, but forbidden to a woman to participate in the active study and recording of naked-man-as-an-object or even of a fellow woman. It seems clear that “women were not accepted as professional painters.” It also becomes apparent why women were able to compete in literature. Oversimplifying, anyone has to learn the language, can learn to read and write, and can commit personal experiences to paper. However an artist need to exchange ideas, find patrons, travel widely and freely, and have a studio.
    The social condition women are in makes them direct attention to the welfare of others. Women are warned against the snare of trying too hard to excel in any one thing: To be able to do a great many things tolerably well is of infinitely more value to a woman, than to be able to excel in any one. This guards men from unwanted competition in jobs, assures assistance on the home front, and lets them have sex and family and fulfillment of talent. Meanwhile if the woman’s commitment to art was a serious one, she was expected to drop her career and give up this commitment at the behest of love and marriage. No man was automatically denied the pleasure of sex or companionship on account of this choice. If the artist in question happened to be a woman, guilt, self-doubt, and objecthood would have been added to the undeniable difficulties of being an artist.
    Women that succeed in art had a close personal connection with a stronger or more dominant male artistic personality. For a woman to opt for a career at all has requires a certain amount of individuality; she must have rebellion in her, rather than submitting to the socially approved role of wife and mother. It is only by adopting the “masculine” attributes that women have succeeded.

  7. levirybalov says:

    Nochlin says that the question “Why have there been no great women artists?” itself is “simply the top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and misconception.” The actual issues relate to the ideas of “genius,” which mislead people into believing that greatness is begotten by genius, and so the reason that there have been no great female artists is because there have been no female geniuses, suggesting that women are simply not intelligent enough for the task.

    She tackles this idea first by dismissing the romanticized accounts of artists such as van Gogh “spinning out sunflowers despite epileptic seizures and near-starvation” and “Toulouse-Lautrec, dwarfed, crippled, and alcoholic, sacrificing his aristocratic birthright in favor of the squalid surroundings that provided him with inspiration” as “obvious fairy tales” which no serious contemporary art historian takes seriously. She does, however, elucidate the role of these myths: they form “the unconscious or unquestioned assumptions of scholars.” This is important because it demonstrates what she describes as the misconception of the existence of genius, and its focus on the individual rather than the “social and institutional structures” of the time.

    This provides the groundwork for her argument, which is that it was the social and institutional structures of the time(s) that prevented women from becoming great artists, rather than the faults of women in general. She attacked the misconception by summarily examining the backgrounds of individual great artists and then of women as a whole in the past 500 years or so. She demonstrates that most of the “great” artists had 1) direct artistic influences (usually fathers) and 2) established institutions that enabled them to recognize their potentials. She uses the very pertinent example of women not being allowed to paint nude models, an integral part of the training of artists. This institutional exclusion, among many others, she argues, is why there have been no great women artists.

    Nochlin provides a practical viewpoint to adopt in order to erase the state of female subordination. Her advice to women is to “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.”

    Nochlin explains what is necessary for women to do in order to be equals, and tries to provide a paradigm by which lower female stature in other arts can be examined. Her methods of doing this, of course, reach far beyond only women and only the arts. Her methods of examining how “problems” are defined (not covered in this post), institutional discrimination, and what can be done about it, are widely applicable. Though not new, her methods provide an analysis to a much-deserving topic and so set a precedent for other such works.

  8. levirybalov says:

    I’m about to be kicked out of the library, so I’ll leave you with a humorous and slightly relevant addition to the conversation:

    The Onion’s Tips For Succeeding As A Woman In The Workplace:

  9. Gurprit Kaur says:

    Linda Nochlin attempts to answer the question, “Why have there been no great Women Artists?” in her article, coming up with various explanations far beyond the typical feminism arguments. She uses sociology and psychology in order to answer this question. Nochlin expresses her theory of the concept of an artist genius. One may believe the theory that explains that some people are born great, and if it is so that men are the ones born great compared to woman, then who is to blamed for the tendency of the universe? However, according to Nochlin, talent comes from the passion installed in one at a young age and nurtured right. So now one may think, if not natural genius, then why are the great always men? This is where society comes in. The societal norm of raising girls to be nothing but housewives was common throughout history. Only recently have woman exceeded that stereotype. Without being allowed to learn and practice the same things with the same level of encouragement as their male counterparts, women were locked out of the artistic community. They were never told at a young age that they can be great and weren’t nurtured in such a manner. Society thinks that woman can’t be like men while the other way around is accepted. Nochlin explains that if a man wanted to do something considered feminine, he could slip right into the position any time he pleased, even mastering it with no social judgement. For example, if a man like to and is good at cooking, then he can become a professional chef, while for a woman, its probably a common thing. However, if a woman wants to do the job of a male she would have to break free from the shackles of their “wombs.” So agreeing with @apalathingal, the problem is not within the individuals rather in the system itself. Woman have not had the same opportunities that men have had, resulting in having no great woman artist or great woman.

  10. Ahmed Ashraf says:

    The essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin deals with the reasons of the disparity among the number of great male artists and the number of great female artists. Before addressing the reasons, author states that recent feminist activities contributed to emotional liberation, but it needs to focus on basic intellectual and ideological issues, dealing with females, in academics. She also mentions that inclusion of female viewpoint in historical analysis is necessary to not only get “a more adequate and accurate view of historical situations,” but also to create a “truly just social order.” After that she approaches the question in a very interesting manner. She doesn’t try to find problems with either gender as many tend to. As a matter of fact, she addresses two reasons of this character. “women are incapable of greatness” is one of the reason she addresses. Author understands that this reasoning “falsifies the nature of the issue” and she addresses it through a possible reaction of a feminist to this idea. A feminist is highly likely to try to find examples of great, but under-appreciated women artists to counter it. But Nochlin finds the very fact that one has to dig up such examples of female artists to be a re-enforcer of the reasoning. The she deals with another reason that states that women’s art have “different kind of greatness” than men’s art . She trashes this notion not only because it postulates the existence of a “feminine style” that is different in characteristics and expression, but also because of the vast difference among the styles of female artists. Female artist are more relative to time period than themselves. If such a thing as “feminine style” existed, there would be more similarity as shown in the works of male artists. Then the author presents her reasons for the lack of great female artists. She simply states that “there have been no supremely great women artists.” There have been “good and interesting” ones, but not great ones. As much as one might wish, “there are no women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cezanne, Picasso or Matisse.” She writes that he cause of this is the social, institutional and educational structure. Author states that society is oppressive toward certain groups while advantageous to others. In this case, women are the oppressed ones. Society presents enormous obstacles in their way. They are restricted by social rules and bonds. They are given some roles to fulfill in male dominated society. They are not given opportunities beside them. They also have been socially restricted to certain degrees and areas of education. Author writes that the notion that art is an expression of individual experience is misconception. The making of a great piece of art involves “a self-consistent language of form” or ” free from, given temporally defined conventions, schemata, or systems of notation.” One can be learn this through education, hands on experience with a master and personal experimentation. Since women are denied these chances, it is impossible for them to gain the understanding of intricate “language of art” that is necessary to make a great pieces of art, thereby destroying the chances of creating “great” female artists. Those who are privileged by society try to hold on to them, continuing this practice of depressing women. These are social factors that influences the making of great artists. One might consider that what makes a great artists is the individual’s genius level, but it is hardly a viable thing to make this decision upon, considering that one’s genius doesn’t necessarily translate into greatness. Characteristics supposedly indicating genius of great artists can also be found in others who have seriously failed in life. Moreover, the author implies, the level of genius of certain artist is build upon, by others, their already existing art. These are stories, made up around the artists to, in a sense, justify their work. Overall, the author reaches the conclusion that the making of a great artist is not about the individual, but the opportunities that was available to them. Since women were not provided with the opportunities, there have been a lack of great women artists.

  11. Destiny Berisha says:

    Linda Nochlin’s makes it very clear as to why she explores the question “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” by revealing its implications in art history that could possibly have the effect of a chain reaction to reveal inadequacies of white-male-dominated areas of any intellectual or scholarly discipline, like history or psychology. The white Western male viewpoint has been “unconsciously accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian” (p552), which has led to not only an elitist perspective in most disciplines it has dominated but also to inadequacies (as mentioned before) in ethical, moral and intellectual standards. Nochlin warns that “uncritical acceptance of ‘what is’ as ‘natural’ may be intellectually fatal” (p553) and that in order to get rid of these distortions and inadequacies, feminists have to “reveal biases and inadequacies not merely in dealing with the question of women, but in the very way of formulating the crucial questions of the discipline as a whole.” (p553).
    Nochlin goes about this question in several ways. She first “[examines] the whole erroneous intellectual substructure upon which the question is based” [p568] by suggesting that the way the question is asked “falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer.” In other words, the way the question is asked already implies an answer that suggests there have been no great women artists simply because women are not capable of greatness. Nochlin focuses in on an attempt to answer the question that suggests women and men have different greatnesses, as if to suggest that there is a “distinctive and recognizable feminine style” (p554) of art. Nochlin counters this with an example of female writers and concludes that “women artists and writers would seem to be closer to other artists and writers of their own period and outlook than they are to each other” (p555).
    The only way to go about all human problems is to reinterpret “the nature of the situation” (p556) or to radically alter the “stance or program on the part of the ‘problems’ themselves” (p556). To do so, “women must conceive of themselves as potentially, if not actually, equal subjects…” (p556).
    Linda Nochlin pinpoints several causes of this result (that there have been no great women artists). One of these causes she claims to be rooted in oppressive and discouraging institutions and education; in her words: “the very nature of our institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are part of them” are largely responsible for this outcome. For example, men have learned to desire “submission” and “unqualified affection” from women, causing an internalized set of demands in women to succumb to these demands of the male-dominated society. Success, for women, comes at the sacrifice of family and sex—but only for women, because they are taught to give this up; women are taught that the care and affection for others comes before all else: “solitude as the price of success or sex and companionship at the price of professional renunciation” (p567). These “demands and expectations” are at the root of the problem in limiting and oppressing women in generally all fields. Therefore, “the answer to why there have been no great women artists lies not in the nature of individual genius or the lack of it, but in the nature of given social institutions and what they forbid or encourage in various classes or groups of individuals.” (p562)

  12. Janna Wu says:

    The question being addressed throughout Linda Nochlin’s piece is evidently noted in the title, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Nochlin being a female professor of art history surprisingly does not conduct her arguments through a feminist viewpoint. Instead, she dismisses such feminist attempts, stating that the feminist reaction to the woman question (the issue being presented in the title) generally “reinforces[s] its negative implications” rather than truly dig into a possible explanation to find answers to the question. Before plunging into her reasoning for the issue, Nochlin begins with a few common responses from people—men and women, professionals and nonprofessionals—to the question being asked. One attempt she mentions addresses the notion that women artists have a kind of “greatness” that differ from that of male artists, a particular style that is based on women’s special character, situation, and experience. Nochlin argues against this theory stating that while it made perfect sense for there to be clear distinction between the styles of both genders due to societal role differences, where is the explanation for the absence of “femininity” common qualities among styles of all female artists? She backs her argument with the fact that artworks done by Artemisia Gentileschi, Angelica Kauffman, Georgia O’Keefe, etc. had no linked essence of femininity, which parallels the situation among female writers like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Another so-called attempt is that women artists are inward-looking to which Nochlin refutes right off.

    Nochlin points out that the underlying real problem does not rest much in the concept of what femininity is but rather on the misconceptions proposed by society of what art is. The fault is on our society’s institutions and education. Nochlin notes that we have a tendency to pinpoint a certain problem to every circumstance: the East Asian Problem, the Poverty Problem…and relevantly, the Woman Problem, essentially equality, and are quick to owe the Woman Problem or equality to the “benevolence or ill-will of individual men” and “the self-confidence or abjectness of individual women.” Rather, the Equality issue ultimately goes back to our institutional structures and the way they impose on our view of life.
    Nochlin additionally writes, “art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, ‘influenced’ by previous artists, and, more vaguely and superficially, by ‘social forces’” given the common presumption that art belongs to a genius, one who possesses the “golden nugget”.

    Elaborately, Nochlin dives into societal constraints on giving artistic education of nudes to women. From the 1850s and on, female nudes were forbidden in nearly all public institutions and aspiring female artists were not allowed any nude models to study off of. However starting from 1893 when female artists were granted permission to life drawing of nude models, the models had to be draped. Men in contrast had no such problems in their artistic education. Women like renowned Angelica Kauffman were to be presented in effigy for art shows that reveal the presence of a male nude. Nochlin includes that it was all right for women to be revealed naked as an art object to be observed and studied in the company of men but it was forbidden that they actively participate in studying a male nude. Social taboo on how education should be conducted for the female and male is hence shown. Another contributing element is Mrs. Ellis’s The Family Monitor and Domestic Guide that discourages and warns women against excelling in any one area of work, notably that associated with higher learning. Furthermore, in concordance with the views of social institutions, men often see women being in the homes, taking on “real” work that involves serving the family and appealing to his sensual needs. But if a woman were to have serious commitments to her study, she was expected to give it up for love and marriage. Unconventionality also factors in where female artists who are willing to give up family life to pursue their careers would undoubtedly encounter difficulties as opposed to me who have done it. Finally it is also in the art works that the idea of a woman prideful of her painting is not expressed. It is rather her vulnerability and innocence that are captured onto the canvas. Nochlin observes that one general trend for many women artists is the very fact that they came from fathers who were artists or have personal connection with a strong male artist figure, implying that even the rise to fame of female artists is the result of men.

    Nochlin concludes that society, even today, is made institutionally impossible for women have successful accomplishments in the arts. The few number of women who have made this breakthrough does so by wrestling with self-doubt, ridicule, and guilt. She nevertheless praises women for challenging social norms and facing cruel reality without pouts and excuses.

  13. sanam Bhandari says:

    Linda Nochil starts her paper “Why have there been no great women artists?” by discussing how not to answer the question, ‘why have there been no great women artists?’ Some contemporary feminists attempt to answer this question by saying that there is a difference between greatness in male and female is different which then postulates that there is a difference between a feminine style and a masculine style, which according to Nochil does not exist. Therefore, making the attempt flawed. There is no feminine or masculine style as no common qualities of feminism link the styles of women artists. Another approach to this question is that there have been many great female artists but because of the male dominated society they have been forgotten in the course of time. But, Nochil argues that there have been no great women artists not because they are forgotten but because of they are not provided with the same education that men are. She then goes on to say that although women are getting more equality now a days, men will not grant complete equality to women because they are unwilling to give up the natural order of things, where they have such a great advantage.
    Many male artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugin and many other faced great hardships in their lives yet they still succeed against all odds. Which then makes us think if van Gogh with his fits and cezanne with his personal problems could make such great art, why could’t women? She then says that a very large proportion of artists came from a family of artists, in which the father taught the son his work, however, Nochil says that it would have been different if it were a daughter. She then compares women artists to aristocrats, there has been no great women artist or a great artist from the aristocrats because they have different social responsibility to be devoted towards which, leaves them very little time to devote to professional art production.
    Women are not given as much opportunities as men to excel in art, she elaborates the fact that women were not allowed to draw a nude model, which was very essential to the training of a young artist. There are many more institutionally maintained discrimination against women, which are universal and prevent women from achieving mere proficiency, much less greatness. Women are deprived of encouragement, educational facilities and rewards that it is incredible that women have persevered and seek profession in art. Women also had to choose between profession or a family but a man did not there fore, it made it more difficult for women to pursue a career in art.
    The reason there are no great women artists is not because of the lack of individual talent in art but the public’s discrimination against women in providing proper education and learning opportunities in art.

  14. Mena McCarthy says:

    Linda Nochlin brings up very interesting points in her article “Why are there no great women artists?” The first point would be the title itself, “Why are there no great women artists?” Nochlin begins her article explaining that there has been a feminist revolution, but people are still accepting the idea of the “white-male-position-accepted-as-natural.” She further states that “‘what is’…’natural’ may be intellectually fatal.”

    She then brings up this idea of “greatness,” and that men and women (at least in the art world) may have different definitions for it. But with this assertion, Nochlin explains that the aspect of “femininity” is not what brings female artists together, but the “other artists and writers of their own period and outlook…” The problem with the feminists in the first place is their misconception of their own femininity; they believe that art is completely “personal” and “emotional,” when it is really the result of the mechanical practice of painting in itself. The “masters” of art are almost all heavily educated in their art, while women were not given this opportunity.

    Nochlin makes a very profound statement that I originally thought disagreed with the entire article: ” The fact of the matter is that there have been no supremely great women artists, as far as we know, although there have been many interesting and very good ones who remain insufficiently investigated or appreciated…” But I realized that it is exactly the opposite; the main reason that women haven’t been able to become as recognized as Van Gogh or other “masters” is because of the system education and the different institutions that inhibited them from receiving their artistic education in the first place.

    There is a proposal, however, that Nochlin makes for women to persevere in their conquest to be recognized as a great woman artist:
    “Instead, women must concieve of themselves as potentially, if not actually, equal subjects, and must be willing to look the facts of their situation full in the face, without self-pity, or cop-outs; at the same time they must view their situation with that high degree of emotional and intellectual commitment necessary to create a world in which equal achievement will be not only made possible but actively encouraged by social institutions.”

    Another aspect that Nochlin brings to the surface is the double standard between men and women when it comes to art. Men are said to be allowed to have a”feminine” involvement within society, whether it is becoming a pediatrician if they have a love for children, or a master chef if they have a love for cooking, and can even pursue “feminine” art interests, such as “painters or sculptors.”

    Even if this is the case, Nochlin states that men are still unwilling to give up the “natural order” because it has so many advantages for them. If a man can have both “submission” and “affection” from a woman, why would he possibly want to give up that power and authority?

    After further explaining the differences between men and women in the artistic world (even asking what the case would be if Picasso were to be born female), she delves into the aspect of the nude portrait. A portrait of a nude woman was seen as “forbidden” in art schools, while the nude portrait of a man was allowed. The more surprising idea is that women were not allowed to participate in the drawing of a nude model, whether it was male or female! The standard that a group of male art students were allowed to draw a nude female while women were not even allowed to draw a nude of their own gender is simply unjustified. Because of the inhibiting of this experience, women were not able to get the proper training in order to become “great artists.”

    In conclusion, Nochlin explains that yes, a woman pursuing an art career is difficult, and that there is an expectation that when they marry, women have to “drop [their] carrer[s]” and become the doting housewife, but the “disadvantages” may be the biggest strengths when pursuing an art career.

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