Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?
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. In 1989 an exhibition was held to increase visibility for women artists entitled Women's Work: the Montana Women's Centennial Art Survey Exhibition 1889-1989 inspired by Nochlin's groundbreaking contribution.
- Rijsingen, Miriam van (1995). "How purple can it be?: Feminist art history". In Rosemarie Buikema, Anneke Smeli. Women's Studies and Culture: A Feminist Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 94–105. ISBN 9781856493123.
- Nochlin, Linda (1988). Women, Art and Power & Other Essays. United States: HARPER COLLINS (PA). p. 145. ISBN 0064301834.
- Nochlin, Linda (1988). Women, Art and Power and Other Essays. United States: HARPER COLLINS (PA). p. 176. ISBN 0064301834.
- Mothersill, Mary (1974). "Rev. of Hess and Baker, Art and Sexual Politics: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 32 (3): 435–36. doi:10.2307/428436. JSTOR 428436.
- Leighninger, Jr., Robert D. (1977). "Rev. of Hess and Baker, Art and Sexual Politics: Why Have There been No Great Women Artists?". Contemporary Sociology. 6 (3): 303–4. doi:10.2307/2064782. JSTOR 2064782.
- Nochlin, Linda (1988). Women, Art and Power and Other Essays. United States: HARPER COLLINS (PA). ISBN 0064301834.
- Howe, Florence (1977). "Editorial". Women's Studies Newsletter. 5 (4): 2. JSTOR . 40042534 .
- Munro, Eleanor C. (2000). Originals: American Women Artists. Da Capo. pp. 7, 531. ISBN 9780306809552.
- Druckman, Charlotte (2010). "Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?". Gastronomica. 10 (1): 24–31. doi:10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.24. JSTOR 10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.24.