While every month is Women’s History Month at Renaissance Reframed, March is a month for us to contribute our voice to the celebration of Women’s History and reflect upon the important work of scholars, advocates, and organizations who have come before us. We proudly proclaim ourselves as “feminist art historians,” who have dedicated most of our academic careers to studying women artists and patrons. For us, studying art history in the 2020s, this doesn’t seem like such a revolutionary idea. Yet, the concept of actively seeking out and promoting women artists and the role of women in art wasn’t solidified until the 1970s. With the Women’s Empowerment movement came a question for art historians:
“Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
In 1971, Art Historian Linda Nochlin wrote a groundbreaking article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” which marked the growth of a revolution in art history. Nochlin’s article considers the reasons why there are so few “great” women artists among the ranks of the never-ending list of (typically white) men. The explains that the very notion of artistic genius is gendered, that only men were considered capable of genius primarily because of societal and physical barriers which kept women from receiving the education and support to achieve “greatness.” Nochlin continues by presenting possible ways to correct the glaring absence of “great” women artists, but also acknowledges the many difficulties of doing so. Can we just shove women into the old art historical canon? Must we create a separate canon for women that accounts for their restrictions? Her questions sparked an academic revolution as feminist art and art history blossomed, attempting to answer these difficult questions.
In the 50 years since Nochlin wrote that article, the art world has changes (slightly, unfortunately it moves rather slowly…) and the concept of the “Great Woman Artist” doesn’t seem so foreign. In 2020, the National Gallery in London’s exhibition, “Artemisia,” placed Artemisia Gentileschi among the ranks of the other one-named “geniuses” like Caravaggio, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Solo exhibitions of women artists are increasing as museums are (finally) responding to the call for female representation. In Washington DC, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has a permanent collection of women artists from around the world from the last 500 years. Their collection shows not only were there great women artists, but there still are great women artists creating works today.
Yet, to those outside the art historical field, when asked if they can name 5 Women Artists, most draw a blank. Is it possible to elevate the work of women artists’ enough that they would join the level of infamy shared by male artists?
Every March, the National Museum of Women in the Arts challenges visitors to name #5WomenArtists. Through sharing on social media and challenging visitors on site, the museum hopes to bring attention to the fact that women are severely underrepresented in the art world, both in the art historical canon and on the walls of museums.
So, the question is…Can You Name Five Women Artists? Leave your five artists in the comments and share your answers on social media using our Template!
Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? 50th Anniversary Edition