Our final installment in our Women’s History Month mini-series on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from SIUE Art & Design Professor Katie Poole-Jones.
It is not a stretch to say that I am art historian, not to mention a feminist art historian, in large part thanks to Linda Nochlin. Although I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, her groundbreaking 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” left an indelible mark on a then impressionable college sophomore and forever changed the way that I would engage with (and later teach) art history. Stressing the institutional over the individual, Nochlin called attention to the implicit bias of the question posed in the title of her essay, imploring us to curb our knee-jerk reaction to offer up the names of the “greats” – Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi – in response, as doing so would validate its misguided premise. Her challenging of the patriarchal value system of Western art and her insistence on exposing the educational and cultural barriers that kept women from greatness was an eye-opening and thrilling way to engage with the discipline that would become my life’s work.
I always look forward to assigning Nochlin’s essay to my Women in Art students as it routinely produces some of the most engaged and passionate discussion that I see in my classroom. When I taught it once again this past January, a few months after her death, it was with a bittersweet tinge, but also with an increased desire to carry on the legacy of this amazing and inspiring feminist.
To learn more about Nochlin, check out these links:
- Linda Nochlin, trailblazing feminist art historian, dies at 86.
- Why have there been no great women artists