and in many ways arcane creations hardly offer a viable alternative to the mural programs sponsored under the New Deal, his criticism is nevertheless relevant to Stettheimer's art. Her ideas of social reality, if idiosyncratic, are neither naïve nor sentimental, her pictorial invention the opposite of "banal" or "poor." Nor is her vision, in Cathedrals of Art, totally affirmative.
Beneath the glowing admiration for American institutions and personae in this work, as in the other paintings of the Cathedrals series, exists a pointed and knowing critique of them as well. The Cathedrals, as I have indicated, are by no means pure affirmations of American, or even New York, values. The most effective revelations of social reality are not necessarily either intentional or from the left, as both Engels and Georg Lukács have reminded us. Balzac, upholder of monarchy, was in fact the most acute and critical analyst of the social reality of his time. Look again at Wall Street; or look again at Cathedrals of Art, with each little chieftain smugly ensconced in his or her domain, the dealers feverishly waving their artists' balloons or clutching their wares, the critic with his mechanical signals, the avid photographers--and the blinded, worshipful public.
Florine Stettheimer, the artist, existed in this world, it is true, but still somewhat apart from it--as her painting exists apart from the major currents of her time. She knew herself to be, as an artist, a peripheral if cherished figure, unappreciated and unbought by the broader public. She may indeed, in her discreet way, have felt rather bitter about this larger neglect. After a disastrous exhibition at Knoedler's in 1916, although she would often show a work or two at group shows at the Whitney, the Carnegie Institute, or the Society of Independent Artists, she never had a major retrospective until 1946, after her death. 40
In a poem from Crystal Flowers, Stettheimer succinctly sums up the position of art in a capitalist society: "Art is spelled with a capital A/ And capital also backs it/ Ignorance also makes it sway/ The chief thing is to make it pay/ In a quite dizzy way/ Hurrah--Hurrah--." 41 Here, certainly, is social consciousness about art if ever there was.
From Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays by Linda Nochlin. © 1988 by Linda Nochlin. Reprinted by permission of the author and HarperCollins Publishers.