‘Why Have There Been No Great Women
Artists?’ By Linda Nochlin, 1971
Chloe Martin. Critical Studies Presentation
• Many art movements were in process in the 1960’s, for example pop art and
• A resurgence of feminism had started in the 1960’s and continued into the 1970’s.
• Despite writing the essay in 1971, Nochlin concentrates on the times of the ‘Great
artists’ and the ‘feminist gaze’.
• The reason for this is because the deep rooted cause of why there were no great
women artists starts at the very beginning of art history.
• I think that the context of the time it was written is relevant because there was still a
struggle for women’s rights at this time.
Nochlin was 40 years old when
she wrote the essay.
Successful art historian.
In 1969 was introduced to some
Women’s liberation journals which
she claimed ‘transformed her into an
active feminist almost overnight.’
Nochlin co-wrote a book about
female artists (Women Artists: 1550
to 1950), which became a standard
reference for feminist art history.
What is the text proposing? Key Points?
The overall idea which Nochlin proposes with this essay, is that the question; ‘Why have there
been no great women artists?’ is simply the ‘top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and
-Nochlin proposes a number of key answers to the question ‘Why have there been no great women
1. The white western male viewpoint is inadequate.
2. Women had previously been attempting to confront the male elitist view of art, in the wrong
3. The fault of women’s ‘underachievement’ in the arts lies in the institution and education.
5. Pschological Development. (Innate genius/talent)
The white western male viewpoint is inadequate.
Our view of historical situations has been distorted,
through the eyes of the white male, who’s views
dominated art history. In order to achieve a more
sufficient view this must be corrected.
The myth of the ‘Great Artist’ suggests that bearing
within a man since his birth is a god given genius.
Nochlin states that no contemporary art historian still believes these obviously
‘mythological and fairy tale ideas,’ however they are still the components which
form the unconscious and unquestioned assumptions of scholars and art historians.
The majority of feminists had previously attempted
to make people knowledgeable of women's achievements.
They would almost always receive negative responses.
Nochlin explains that this negative response is because
they have failed to tackle the deep rooted initial problem,
which is to address the question ‘Why Have There Been
No Great Women Artists?’
Nochlin says that, men are reluctant to give up
this natural order in which they are subjecting
women to inequality and women must view
themselves as ‘potentially, if not actually,
equal subjects.’ Which in 1971, she didn’t
believe that they did.
The fault of women’s ‘underachievement’ in the arts lies in the institution and
Women were deprived of an artists education.
A period of prolonged study of the nude model was essential to the training of
every young artist and was generally accepted as the highest category of art.
There was a complete unavailability of nude models for aspiring women artists.
Nochlin compares this with the example of a medical student being denied the
opportunity to examine the human body.
As late as 1893, female artists weren’t allowed to attend life drawing at the
Royal Academy in London and even then the model had to be partially
Classes at Glasgow School of Art in 1990. A mixed male and female life drawing
This discrimination did not only effect women, but any other
minority group who were excluded or considered to be less
worthy than the optimum white male.
‘There were no women equivalents to Rembrant or Cezanne, any more than there are black
American equivalents for the same.’
‘It was alright for a low 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 a naked man as
The women who wanted to be given the chance to do life drawing were suspected of doubtful
Women were expected to perform their social and domestic duties and any other
commitment, for example, devoting their life to art, was seen and selfishness and egomania.
Investigations of child development.
Abilities or said ‘intelligence’ are built up step by
step, from infancy onwards.
These abilities may be established so early on that
they appear to be innate talents to the
A large part of the explanation of the Great Artists
such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci was validated
by declaring that their individual genius was
innate, resulting in older art historians views being
seen as invalid.
In fact, these artistic masters would have had
intense training and built up their skills through
their artistic education.
This question of validity adds weight to the
argument treatment of women in the arts was
I chose this text because it is one of the most significant pieces of feminist
writing and it cleverly interrogates the mindset of art historians up to this
point in 1971.
It has been really interesting to read such a detailed, academic piece of
writing which takes away any question of the ability of a woman as an artist.
There is much less of a stereotype against women in art in more recent
times however there are still those who believe that women will never
be as good as men. Also the western male viewpoint has been so strongly
engrained into artist culture I feel that it will effect me as an artist at some
point in my life and career. So it is important to understand
the past and the ignorance women have had to endure.
Will women artists ever get the respect they deserve? Once again, men outnumber women on
the Art Review's Power 100 list - further proof, if you need it, of the lack of equality in the art
world - Laura Allsop, theguardian.com, Tuesday 14 October 2008
What’s the biggest problem with women artists? None of them can actually paint, says Georg
Baselitz – Nick Clark, The Independent, Wednesday 06 February 2013
http://www.slideshare.net/mrsnazlan/week-7-childrens-artistic-development14779543 - child artistic development, Viktor Lowenfeld – Slideshow about child
development of artistic skill.