Linda Nochlin (b. 1931) grew up an only child in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in a secular, leftist Jewish family where intellectual achievement and artistic appreciation were among the highest goals, along with social justice.
In a recent interview with Maura Reilly, published in the new anthology Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, there is a passage in which Nochlin recalls the origins of her famous essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
I can’t think of an essay that has been more influential on my thinking than Linda Nochlin’s seminal (if we may use that term in this context) “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
The work of Linda Nochlin has been an embarrassment of riches for me. As a feminist artist, her pioneering feminist art historical research and writing has been instrumental to the development of my work.
Its possible that one of the most important things Linda Nochlin has done is to have launched her best-known salvo in the form of a question. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? was not just an indictment (though it was that, and a forceful one). It was also an invitation.
My connection to Linda goes back to our undergraduate years at Vassara college for women at that timewhere Linda graduated first in our class with an unsurpassed record of academic accomplishment.
In 1996 I was invited to speak about my work at the prestigious Institute of Fine Arts at NYU in front of a new generation of scholars, art historians working towards their Ph.D.s. It was the academic home of the great and revolutionary mind of Linda Nochlin.
Linda Nochlin’s art historyexpressed in essays, lectures, classes, and conversationsknowingly navigates between the macroscopic and microscopic, the social and the formal, past and present. She has modeled, for me and countless others, what it means to practice art history.
What Linda Nochlin has bequeathed to future art historians and art loversher trenchant, socially informed, feminist approach toward painting, particularly that of 19th-century France; her championing of women artists; her openness toward novel manifestations in the visual artshardly needs restating. But recently, finding myself rereading her 1971 survey text on Realism, I was struck by a less expected contribution: her acute analysis of contemporaneity.
Last spring I had the wonderful experience of spending time in bucolic Bellagio, in Italy, sequestered away from the multitude of distractions of daily life to think about something I had always wanted to study: the plight of the female artist. In the weeks and months spent in preparation for this fellowship, I read and re-read many classic pieces and I kept coming back to Nochlin’s essay “Why are There No Great Women Artists?” which resonated deeply more than four decades after it was written
The exhibition of Linda Nochlins portraits shows the preeminent art historian as perceived by the artists who have been her contemporaries spanning more than five decades.
I first met Linda at Nan Rosenthals New Years Eve party in 2003. She was ensconced on a divan in the middle of the living room, her hair was hot pink, and she was the only person in the room who had any interest in speaking with a young person.
My husband Max likes to tell this story: back in the early 1960s when he was a graduate student, he asked Linda how Meyer Schapiro had responded to her dissertation on Courbet. She said, “Oh, he tore it to shreds. I was terribly upset.” Then after a few moments, she added, “But I didn’t let it bother me.”
What I’ve realized most from Linda Nochlin: language helps crystallize thought. Her direct and deceptively casual prose is the combination of the colloquial and formal, something she says she learned reading Delmore Schwartz.
For starters, Realism (1971) is more than Linda’s brilliant first book. She wrote it because that’s who she is and was: vibrantly, thickly real; searingly realistic; practically realist.
In a toast at my thirtieth birthday party, Linda said something that has stayed with me since: Marni is the closest thing to my own personal history. We were both raised in assimilated Jewish families in Brooklyn and we both graduated from Midwood High School and Vassar College, decades apart, our intertwined histories having begun before we ever met.
In Linda Nochlins bathroom, there is a Wesselmann depicting a single foot with all five toenails in maquillage. Resplendent in red plastic sheen and buffed to within a fraction of an inch of their lives, not one toenail shows a blemish.
A short flashback to Paris, 1958 59, where I first met Linda Nochlin, already a formidable scholar and accomplished writer, who was soon to become a good friend.
The room leaned forward as Achetez des pommes came on the left screen. There was Linda Nochlin, with her carrot-red hair, asserting what was at the time an unheard-of premise: the anonymous 19th-century photograph of the woman dressed only in black boots and black stockings and holding a tray of apples just below her breasts, was intended for a male audience. Was Nochlin gripping the podium with both hands, demonstrating her own power as she is wont to do when lecturing, when she supplied proof for her hypothesis?
In the January 1971 issue of ARTnews, Linda Nochlin rocked the art world by publishing an essay entitled, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?
Our friendship of long standing has taken place in private meetings, public conferences, and email exchanges (we live on opposite coasts). Linda Nochlin and I relate on many levelsas art historians and poets, in our devotion to feminism, and in the history we have witnessed during the course of our long lives (we are now both in our eighties).
I met Linda at Shirley Jaffes fourth-floor walk-up studio a long time ago, in Paris, with some women artists; she introduced us to feminism, which she brought with her from the US.