As UK media reports institutionalised sexism and misogyny rampant in almost every walk of life, it seems timely to pay respect to an inspirational feminist who died this week, having written with great intellectual insight about why the impact of women is barely evident in the history of art. From the New York Times:
Linda Nochlin, a celebrated art historian whose feminist approach permanently altered her field, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 86…
Professor Nochlin earned a place of honor in both art-historical and art-world circles in January 1971 with a groundbreaking essay whose very title, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” threw down a gauntlet.
Her answer was complex as it examined assumptions behind the question, enumerated the centuries of institutional and social conventions that had militated against women’s succeeding in the arts and discredited what she called the myth of innate genius.
Her inquiry provided several generations of art historians, critics and artists alike with new tools with which to address issues of gender and identity in art. It also helped initiate a collective, and continuing, rewriting of art history.
In the process not a few female artists have been recognized as great, as the very idea of greatness has been redefined and as the very conception of art has expanded to include the so-called crafts. In 2001, the 30th anniversary of the article’s publication was celebrated with a symposium at Princeton University.
Professor Nochlin went on to write extensively on feminist matters in the arts while pursuing a career that was unusual in its breadth, powered by an almost evangelical sense of urgency and a certain flexibility in artistic taste…
The biography is long and worth reading, as is that in today’s edition of The Times UK, from which I enjoyed this:
Rarely inhibited by sensitivity when it came to enforcing her will, Nochlin did not confine her feminism to writing. In 1972 she responded to a 19th-century erotic French photograph called Buy My Apples, which depicts a naked woman holding a tray of apples at chest level, by creating Buy My Bananas, in which she replaced the woman with a naked man and the apples with a tray of bananas held just below his penis. Although her intention had been to “deconstruct what was automatically acceptable about what is erotic, and for whom”, she ended up missing out financially. “If I had only copyrighted it I could probably have made a fortune,” she groaned after learning how widely it had been copied.
See the last image below to compare and contrast ‘Apples’ and ‘Bananas’.
For the Spring 2018 Dior Collection, Maria Grazia Chiuri used the iconic Linda Nochlin quote:
Why have there been no great women artists?
However, as noted in The Times, did the use of these words:
… mark the culmination of the feminist cause? Or was this the appropriation and subjugation of a feminist slogan by a masculinedominated world? After almost five decades, the debate started by [Linda Nochlin’s] work continues.
As we all continue to debate what feminism is, and should be, let us not forget the inspirational women who have done so much to get us where we are today.
Linda Nochlin 1931-2017.