Woman of the Week: Art Historian Linda Nochlin

Woman of the Week: Art Historian Linda Nochlin

This week’s pick: Linda Nochlin, an educator and curator whose work transformed the study of art history. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Nochlin earned a B.A. in philosophy from Vassar College, a M.A in English from Columbia University and a Ph.D in history of art from New York University. She worked as a professor of art history at Yale University, CUNY, Vassar and NYU, and she also co-curated a number of landmark exhibitions that focused on women’s (oft-subjugated) role in art history. Nochlin died at the age of 86 on Oct. 29, 2017.

Why we picked her: To call Nochlin a pioneer would be an understatement. Fueled by an existing feminist movement, her 1971 essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” eventually received global recognition and challenged the way universities and museums categorized art created by women. In the article, first published widely by ArtNews, Nochlin elegantly defined the institutional obstacles and patriarchal normativity that has kept women artists from receiving the same recognition as their male counterparts. “Things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and, above all, male,” she wrote. “The fault, dear brothers, lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.”

Through her writing, Nochlin would continue to spearhead a progressive analysis of art history. In another seminal essay published in 1983, she applied theories of Orientalism to masterworks that emerged in late 19th century France (take, as just one example, Jean-Leon Gérôme’s “The Snake Charmer”), noting that these paintings, steeped in sexist and racist stereotypes, should not and could not be separated from their roots in colonialism. To understand these paintings, one must take into account the paternalistic views held by society at large.

Nochlin is currently honored as part of the Brooklyn Museum’s feminist exhibition “Half the Picture,” now running until March 31, 2019. “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” can be read for free online here, and an updated reader based on Nochlin’s seminal works can be purchased here or at museums and bookstores in New York City.

Linda Nochlin; photo courtesy of New York University
Portrait of Linda Nochlin on her wedding day in 1968, painted by friend Phil Pearlstein. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, this painting hangs in the “Half the Picture” exhibition on feminist art.

Top Image: (L) Portrait of Linda Nochlin with her husband on her wedding day by friend and artist Phil Pearlstein; (R) Photo of Linda Nochlin from Vassar College