If someone was to be asked to name a number of renown artists in human history, it could prove an easy task naming even up to 10. But if the question was to specify that female artists be named, it could prove a daunting task. Even if a person was to name some female artists, only a few have been known over time and one is likely to repeat the same names such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Cindy Sherman, and perhaps Marina Abramović. It then raises a vital point in art, that why is the situation this way (Admin). In her 1971 article titled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists,” Linda Nochlin contends that instead of merely digging up great overlooked women artists, historians in the field of art should confront the question at the very basic levels. This paper evaluates the significance of Nochlin’s article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists” with respect to the role of women in art.
Nochlin commences her article by giving attention to the ideology that her notion is based on a feminist stance which is quite different compared to the feministic activities of contemporary art. Nochlin does not use emotive appeal to present her arguments but rather provides a historical analysis. She carries on to point that the discussion of “female problem” has the potential to provide a model for tackling other sociopolitical issues (Nochlin 2). Rightly so, answering Nochlin’s question should not focus on answering what might be wrong with the womenfolk but rather by seeking to understand what bedevils the art institution. This is what Nochlin has proven in her discussion of a semi-religious conception of the role of artists which was popular during the 19th century. At the time, great artists usually had romanticized and fabricated tales that accompanied their successes like their talent and genius enduring and prevailing against harsh conditions such as being at a low position in life or having to ignore their studies.
The question which thus springs up from this is if male artists could attain such greatness against the odds hindering them propelled by their geniuses and talents, is it conclusive to say that womenfolk do not possess the same geniuses and talents requisite to overcome the odds that they face? Nochlin notes that no great artist has come from aristocracy also. She questions if they too did not possess the geniuses and talents that propelled other male artists (Nochlin 2). This only leaves the probable answer to be that what the society expected of womenfolk and aristocrats gave them no time to whole dedicate their time in art. Nochlin reminds the readers that women were only accorded limited opportunities which hindered them from becoming great artists.
To achieve greatness in artistry, an individual requires certain training and experience. An example of this training would be drawing a nude, a practice which womenfolk were denied to do (Caldwell). Nochlin surmises that this denial is akin to denying a medical student the chance to cut apart or observe the human body. In addition, womenfolk were omitted in the education scheme, which was tantamount in the art to the sole requirement to succeed. Nochlin gives an intriguing and relatable analysis of written art which explains womenfolk’s success in the domain that no basic methods/techniques are learned in the formal environment apart from reading and writing so that one becomes a proficient and great poet or novelist. As such, since womenfolk were not excluded from any form of education, they were on the same playing ground with their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, the said same playing ground inhibited the emergence of great women in poetry and novels as there existed some feminine mystique. Females who greatly succeeded in a certain field were regarded as unfeminine and not marriageable since their proficiency was viewed to be making her concentrate on themselves. Womenfolk were rather exhorted to engage in many fields in order for them to prove their usefulness in all situations. Nonetheless, their efforts to succeed in many fields only won them contempt from male counterparts. Women were to be devoted only to her family and nothing superficial. The few women who have succeeded have done so with the help of male artists where women were to assume masculine traits. This is even true from other historical writings where women were confined to trivial and non-creative works (Caldwell). Nochlin has proven that no great female artists exist not because of personal reasons of women but due to institutional injustices.
Nochlin’s evaluation of the womenfolk in art remains relevant even today as many art historians base their studies on her analysis. The article opened necessary discourses on feminist art history which seeks to address matters related to gender, production, and representation in artistry. The question which this article omits, however, is the fact that females are discriminated upon in art as they are sometimes the subjects of art and not the audience. For instance, if a woman was to view a work of art where a nude woman has been portrayed, chances are that the woman will not like it and consider herself the subject and not the audience for the same (Admin). Further, I do not see why female artists should seek validation for their work, in fact, they should just appreciate their work themselves and everyone else would. Nonetheless, Nochlin’s analysis expanded art and history in infinite ways as her works have been the basis for many art historians in the current setting.