Nochlin, Linda · Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

History must be analyzed to understand where we are today, especially regarding art history as each movement has tended to either build off the previous or react against it. Nochlin argues that there have been no great women artists because historically women have not had the conditions to make art. The question is a misnomer. Instead, it has been white, male, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual etc. person who has had the privileges to make art. This goes beyond what is political or ideological. This is matter of fact.

Nochlin also believes that the notion of the genius artist must be abandoned because because it is inherently harmful. Innate artistic genius is not needed to create art. There have been no great women artists because they have historically not been born in privileged positions that create the opportunity to make art. Nochlin’s essay is very similar to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In it Woolf argues that a woman literally needs a room of one’s own to work, in addition to the access of education and economic opportunity providing a sense of security.

What’s depressing is that a woman in the ’70s wrote much the same as a woman from the ’20s about the lack of economic opportunities women have in order to create. We’re still talking about it today, too. If women were not the primary caregivers of households, if women and people of color were paid just as much as what a sub-par man makes, if we didn’t have to deal with harassment and sexism in the workplace, if we didn’t have to worry about whether our paycheque will cover rent, what would we accomplish in the arts, let alone in government and beyond?

Yoko Ono is an artist who’s work continually inspires and surprises me. From Cut Piece (1964) to current performances of Voice Piece for Soprano (1961) and even to her presence on Instagram, her art is emotional, political, confusing, and joyous. At 85 years old she’s still going strong and still creating.

Jan Brett. Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella (detail), 2013

I’m not usually into illustration, but I had to include one of the first female artists I admired as a child. Jan Brett’s illustrations are mesmerizing and I took her books out constantly growing up. She the first female artist whose work resonated with me. Because I had access to a public library, I grew up with a wide range of literary and artistic influences which has helped create the person I am today. Without that access, I don’t know who I’d be.

I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Audrey Flack’s Marilyn (1977) painting in person at the Vancouver Art Gallery during WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibit. It completely blew me away not just because of its impressive 96″x96″ size, but that it was so beautiful and unabashedly feminine. When a work by a woman influences another woman, that is a success.

Gorilla Girls. [no title] (from “Guerrilla Girls Talk Back”), 1985-90

How does one set a price on a piece of art? When setting mine, I just factor in costs and paying myself an hourly wage. But then I see a male artist price his work significantly higher and wonder what’s holding me back. Is it because of my market, the materials I use, that I’m a woman artist, or a lack of confidence? Looking at the art world numbers for women artists is sad and makes me so angry.

Kara Walker is such a powerful and important artist. Her work is intelligent and thought provoking, demanding to be looked at and demanding to be discussed.

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