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Reading Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
Michelangelo, Picasso, Rembrandt, and many other great artists we know today have one thing in common: they are all male. This reality has troubled art historians and feminists alike— diverse reasons such as anatomy, acculturation, and style differences have been proposed. However, I agree with Nochlin, who holds that it’s all due to nurture, where female artists have to contend with patriarchal obstacles, which I summarize in this essay (1-37).
The 18th and 19th-century Western art scene was aristocratic, white, and male (7). At the famous academies in France, membership was all male. Women could not participate in the competitions that served as auditions to access training, connections, and funding (26). Shut out from public avenues for training; women had to contend with constricted options at home too. The great artists: Diirer, Bernini, Raphael, and Holbein were descended from a line of great artists, which in the haze of the Enlightenment, only admitted sons to the family tradition (9). If perchance your parents rejected this patriarchy, an insurmountable hurdle awaited: art schools would not provide a nude model for use in the training of female artists (24). This handicap plagued female artists until the end of the 19th century when art schools provided partially covered models.
The prevailing thinking on the place of women in society was another barrier. Quoting Mrs. Ellie in the Family Monitor and Domestic Guide, Nochlin observes that women were discouraged from pursuing excellence in any field (28). Instead, a woman was to content herself in shallow knowledge of diverse fields where she could be of use in banter and to maintain a “modest, proficient, self-demeaning level of amateurism” in other fields” (27-28). In addition, other detractors believed that women artists could not explore broad themes in their art; they were delicate and more inward-looking hence could not make great pieces that required the artist to transcend personal expressions and emotional experiences (3-4). Lastly, it was held that women have a peculiar style, and their artistic creations should be judged differently (3).
But within this maze of structure and beliefs, some women did manage to produce great paintings, which are still on display in the West. These outliers were daughters of artists or had male artist mentors, were independen
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