Linda Nochlin first came into my sphere of knowledge during AS Level History of Art. I was being taught by two extremely intelligent, and strongly feminist, teachers - which was amazing - and they were great advocates of Nochlin's writings on art. From here, it became common for me to quote 'As Nochlin states' in essays, and also in any discussions of art on academic, or social, levels.
Her 1971 essay 'Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?' is an essay I revisit fairly often, considering I now study fashion more than Fine Art. Whilst her attention was focused largely on art, how it is commonly understood - painting, sculpture etc - I believe that many of her theories can also be applied to fashion and dress. (that is to argue against those who believe that fashion cannot be classes as art - to which I disagree)
In fact, it is only on reflection, that I realise how pivotal her work on the male gaze, and the female nude, were to my dissertation. I wrote about representations of women (models) as (often naked) corpses in fashion photography from 1965-1980 - exactly when Nochlin wrote this essay. In particular:
“The acceptance of woman as object of the desiring male gaze in the visual arts is so universal that for a woman to question or draw attention to this fact is to invite derision, to reveal herself as one who does not understand the sophisticated strategies of high culture and takes art "too literally," and is therefore unable to respond to aesthetic discourses. This is of course maintained within a world - a cultural and academic world - which is dominated by male power and, often unconscious, patriarchal attitudes. In Utopia - that is to say, in a world in which the power structure was such that both men and women equally could be represented clothed or unclothed in a variety of poses and positions without any subconscious implications of dominance or submission - in a world of total and, so to speak, unconscious equality, the female nude would not be problematic. In our world, it is.”
Whilst her work is approaching 40 years since it was presented, very little has changed. The female nude is still used in all aspects of visual culture. It is so commonplace that it is rarely questioned. Arguably, Nochlin's seminal feminist work was expected to have a positive affect on the art world, and as Chris Kraus states, "she envisaged a revolution in consciousness that would not merely assimilate women into the existing order but change the order itself." Of course, certain views have changed, however, I believe we have a long road ahead in terms of equality in the visual arts and culture sector.
This idea of the male and female gaze, an area that Laura Mulvey has written extensively on, is something I am greatly interested in. Perhaps, the foundations for this interest were laid back in my 17 year old brain, due to Nochlin's brilliant theorising and comprehensible style.
So, in honour of the death of a great writer and thinker, I want to say Thank You, Linda Nochlin. For inspiring me to constantly think about art in a different way.