Image courtesy of Mary Cassatt
By Laura Lee Flanagan


I am a feminist. But it’s not something I talk about.

I only say it if I have to because to “not be” a feminist would open up a world of shit I don’t really want to deal with.

The facts are simple: if you know that women are humans and you think all humans should have the same rights and opportunities on the planet, you are, de-facto, a feminist.

All the other cultural bullshit we lay on top of that simple construct buries it, usually to promote some idea (women are weaker, pop culture sexualizes and thus subordinates women, white men can’t jump – etc etc, bla bla bla).

I am not trying to belittle the arguments, they are important, but it’s nothing that I want to get into here (or ever really).

When I was in grad school, identity politics were the rage. There was an “ism” for everyone and every permutation of what were once easily identifiable, if not painfully reductionist categories of people.

I was introduced to the various “waves” of feminist thought: I entered at wave three (1990s onward). And I am sure all of my critical thinking is conditioned by it; I am not immune.

During these various waves, women reclaimed their legal rights, their voices, and their bodies from the hegemony of masculine domination through the ages.

The italics are just me being a snarky know-it-all — I realize the facts: pre-feminism, women’s lives sucked. Check out the third world today ladies, and tell me how you like it.

Linda Nochlin, a Brooklyn native, is a powerhouse, whose critical inquiries into women in the arts (or lack thereof) blossomed in the 1970s at a time when many scholars were focusing their attention on the dearth of women’s voices in cultural production generally.

This wave of feminism would later be criticized (of course) for its limited perspective; pretty much exclusively white middle class, educated women.

Setting aside the academic posturing, the contribution of Linda Nochlin and her generation of scholars to the history of feminism is undeniable.

And what’s awesome is that Linda is still actively educating; making sure that the work that has been done, is not lost to the grinding mindlessness of our insatiable consumer culture.

In September, Nochlin, the Lila Acheson Emerita Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts NYU, gave a talk at the National Academy Museum & School in NYC.

New York native writer, Jeannie Pawlowski, listened in for New York Natives:

 

“According to the Preface of her new book “Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader” the huge response to her essay came in part due to her fresh vision “…in which she assessed the socio-cultural structures – access to art education, definitions of genius and greatness itself – that impacted not only the art produced by women historically but also their professional and art-historical status, as well.”

By questioning these restraints society is given the task of reopening conversations and redefining what has formerly been considered the canonical norm.

Nochlin’s inquiries urge us to continue to break the barriers with a multidisciplinary approach and to both instruct the next generation about what has been and to help them use these new critical tools to keep up the good fight.

A must read for anyone who wants to understand the history of art and feminist thought, “Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader” contains thirty essential essays from her career, making this the definitive anthology of her writings about women in art.

Now in her eighties, Nochlin spoke about her early life experiences, growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, attending Vassar in the forties and her major career moves along with family life.

As distinguished as she is, Nochlin is also irreverent and funny and admits to having made a career out of “making trouble.”

When asked about the point at which she realized there was such a thing as inequality between the sexes, she writes, “I think I realized that there was inequality quite early—and my reaction was outrage. 

In fact, I remember vividly my first act of proto-feminist critique in the realm of the visual.  I must have been about six years old when I performed this act of desecration.  Slowly and deliberately, I poked the eyes out of Tinker Bell in an expensively illustrated edition of Peter Pan…”

In her long career Nochlin has taught, and continues to teach a new generation, that we need to continuously create and redefine the conditions that allow greatness, to evaluate how “greatness” itself is defined (and by whom) and to always explore the limits of language, looking for the possibility of new narratives to emerge.

 

In a city that relentlessly throws away what is not shiny and new, it is a happy thing to know that the good stuff continues on, and that a bright new generation of smart people will use the tools we already have to hopefully keep society moving in a direction that benefits the most people. Nochlin is most definitely part of the solution.