A Discussion of Linda Nochlin's Essay,
"Why Have There Been No
Great Women Artists?"
Elizabeth Alford and Ingrid Stadler
Why are there no great women artists? Linda Nochlin offers an answer to this question in her article titled "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" originally published in ART news. Many women and students of art history, finding this essay eyeopening, having never posed the question for themselves, tried to answer it, or even thought about what would constitute a satisfactory answer. 1 Not that the question ought to want much settling. The theory that the standard histories of Western art (and literature) were written by various hands, and pieced together during the centuries by various editors without reference to women is not one that is easy to treat respectfully. Although Nochlin subscribes to it, it does not rest on the well established case of any one poem or painting seemingly constructed by a man but actually constructed by a woman: neither art history nor literature furnishes us with a poem or painting whose genesis is known to have been such that we are asked to foist upon it the notion that historians or critics were ignorant of masterpieces created by women. Nochlin's position is founded on a supposition as to when the materials and tools for writing or for making works of visual art first became available to women, which has long since been shown to be untenable. In this essay we try to show that Nochlin's case rests on a base that has been cut out from under it, and that it is sustained by arguments that are of a character incapable of leading anyone to adopt her conclusions.