The title of an essay
first published in Art News
in January 1971 by art historian Linda Nochlin
. The central question of the essay, as you might have guessed from the title, is "Why, of the thousands of paintings in hundreds of great museum
s around the world, are there so very few by women?"
In the way of complicated questions, each possible answer leads to more questions:
Why have women produced fewer paintings? Why are the topics of women's paintings not considered "great"? Why are women who clearly show the same technical skill as their celebrated male contemporaries nevertheless dismissed?
Some excerpts from the essay:
The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our
empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education . . .
Historical conditions made being an artist exceedingly difficult for most
women. During the Renaissance, women were excluded from artists'
workshops and from conventional forms of training. . .
Women were not allowed to study drawing from the nude figure in the
nineteenth century, where such exclusion meant a lack of skill prerequisites
for making "great" art. They painted mothers and children and flowers
- people and objects accessible to them - rather than "history paintings" of
battles and so-called "worldly deeds."
This is a great essay, and should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in art history. She examines not only the historical conditions that excluded women from the art world, but the patriarchal aesthetic prejudice
present even in modern galleries and museums.
So, of course, the answer to the question is that there are great women artists. They just haven't been as recognized as they deserve to be.