On Sunday, October 29th, feminist art historian Linda Nochlin died in her Manhattan home at age 86. Her family reports that the cause of death was cancer. Nochlin was best known for her article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” which is considered to have begun a new era for art historical canon. Through her many studies and works, Nochlin provided the tools to address issues regarding gender and identity in a widely male-dominated field.
In her acclaimed article, Nochlin answered the title of her own question by analyzing the institutional and social traditions that greatly hindered women’s ability to gain success in the arts, blaming what she called “the myth of innate genius.” Nochlin’s article was so well-received that in 2001, Princeton University celebrated the 30th anniversary of its publication with a symposium. Nochlin wrote a substantial amount of feminist art historical pieces to expand on the notion that society and cultural restricts women from achieving greatness, explaining why few women’s greatness is recognized.
Lila Acheson Wallace was born January 30th, 1931 in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Bachelor’s and double minor in Greek and art history in Philosophy at Vassar College in 1951, her Master’s in English from Columbia University in 1952, and her Doctorate in the History of Art from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1963. She worked in the art history departments and also taught at the Graduate Center in Manhattan, Stanford University, Williams College, and Yale University. In 1992, she became a Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University until her retirement in 2013. During her time as a professor, people described her as having a charm and wit that added to her extremely intelligent lectures. She was humorous, outspoken, and was known for her taste in designer clothes and statement jewelry.
Nochlin married twice to different colleagues: her first husband was Philip H. Nochlin, a professor of philosophy, who died in 1960. Her second marriage was to Richard Pommer, an architectural historian, who died in 1992. The College Art Association recognized her work in 1978, awarding her the Frank Jewett Mather Prize for Critical Writing. In 1980, the City University of New York named her Distinguished Service Professor, a title she held until 1990.
From her doctoral dissertation, Nochlin wrote two highly recognized books, Realism (1971) and Gustave Courbet: A Study of Style and Society (1976). Despite her many book publications, however, she focused more of her time and energy on writing essays for magazines like The Art Bulletin, Art in America, and ARTnews; she also organized exhibitions, reviewed contemporary art shows, taught, and lectured widely.
Elizabeth C. Baker, an editor in the 1960s who first invited Nochlin to write for ARTnews, said, “Linda was important as both a scholar and a critic, but beyond that her work had an unusual real-world impact.” Baker could not have been any more right about that. Nochlin’s contributions led to her notable influence on art historians.
Although her death is devastating, Nochlin’s legacy will live on forever. Her significant contributions to art history programs about gender and identity will be written into history and never forgotten. It is strong, educated women like Nochlin that demonstrate how women are capable of anything, even when they are constantly told otherwise.
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