Art

Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors

LINDA NOCHLIN
APRIL 14, 1999

Introduction by William Diebold, Professor of Art History:

Dr. Nochlin comes to Reed as a Steven Ostrow Distinguished Visitor in the in the Visual Arts. The Ostrow Distinguished Visitors program was established in 1988 by a generous gift to Reed from long-time friends of the College Ed and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray. The program is named in honor of Stephen Ostrow as a tribute to his career and out of respect for his advisory role in the formulation of the Cooley-Gray gift to Reed. We're especially pleased that Dr. Ostrow, who recently retired as chief of the prints and drawings division of the Library of Congress, is in the audience this evening.

The Ostrow Visitors program supports art history and its place in the humanities at Reed as it brings to the College "individuals who are distinguished in their fields, whose contribution primarily resides in their creativity, and who will provide a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery." Since its inception the Ostrow program has brought a number of visual artists to Reed, but it is a mark of Linda Nochlin's distinction that she is the first art historian we invited to be an Ostrow Visitor.

Linda Nochlin is currently the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, the same institution from which she received her PhD with a forward-looking and oft-cited doctoral thesis on the nineteenth-century French realist painter Gustave Courbet. She has also taught at Vassar College, her undergraduate alma mater, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and at Yale University.

Nochlin's publications are numerous: two of the poles of her scholarly career, realism and Courbet, were marked out in her thesis and these interests later led both to her broad-ranging book, Realism, and her important exhibition catalogue, Courbet Reconsidered. But Nochlin is perhaps even more distinguished by a long series of essays, many of which have been collected in the volumes entitled Women, Art and Power and Other Essays, The Politics of Vision, and the forthcoming Representing Women.

It is one of these essays, probably the most famous, to which I wish to direct your attention. In 1971 Nochlin asked the question "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" In that essay Nochlin bravely rejected what would have been the easy answer to that question (today we would call it the politically correct one), namely that there have been great women artists whose work has been lost or suppressed. Nor did she take another, in retrospect to obvious tack, that of arguing that "greatness" is simply beside the point. Instead, Nochlin showed how not only the idea of greatness, but all of our ideas about art and art-making are not natural and eternal, but socially constructed and historically contingent. In her essay Nochlin hoped that, by asking her question, she could [quote] "reveal biases and inadequacies not merely in the way art history deals with the question of women, but in the very way of formulating the crucial questions of the discipline as a whole. Thus, the so-called women question, far from being a minor, peripheral, and laughably provincial sub-issue grafted on to a serious, established discipline, can become a catalyst, an intellectual instrument, probing basic and 'natural' assumptions, and providing a paradigm for other kinds of internal questioning." That's obviously a tall order, but in my opinion Nochlin fulfilled it and more, making her essay not only crucial to the feminist history of art, but also a central contribution to the discipline of art history as a whole, one that I would argue is as important as any that has been written in our era.

"Why Have Their Been No Great Women Artists" was literally epoch-making, and continues to be so, and so it gives me great pleasure to introduce Linda Nochlin, whose lecture this evening is entitled: "Bathtime: The Bather in Nineteenth-Century France."

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