Readings for April 16th

Posted: April 13, 2019 in Readings

These are for Tuesday. I only plan to discuss Simone de Beauvoir and Linda Nochlin. While Laura Mulvey is fascinating and massively influential, I have decided not to assign her this semester. Her essay is simply too difficult for us. Still, do feel free to read her and ask me questions if you like.

Good luck with this next assignment. See you soon!

Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex (1949)

Linda Nochlin
(b. 1931)
“Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971)


Laura Mulvey
(b. 1941)
“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975)


  1. Joanna Soh says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever thought of art as Linda Nochlin has, with art actually not a free, autonomous activity but heavily influenced and affected by society. It seems like a reasonable jump, now that I’ve read Nochlin, to understand why there are no famous female artists in the time of Picasso or Rembrandt, as women have notoriously been oppressed from doing anything that goes against the norm. However, I have never thought about this, nor even thought about why only male artists seem to have gotten attention around the 14th century. I really enjoyed this reading, as I think it really opened my eyes up to things I hadn’t even considered before.

  2. Nick Fontaine says:

    Beauvoir seems to present the idea that people in power replace interaction with fantasy that reinforces myth as opposed to the truth. She states that “fact relies on the rich American and male on the side of the Master, and mystery belongs to the slave.” Privilege endowed upon certain individuals confines them to a separate reality in which they establish myth that reinforces their own position. Nochlin similarly argues that privileged individuals rather than myth leverage questions that implicitly marginalize groups. For example, the question of “Why are there no good women artist?” implies the answer that they don’t produce as good of work. The power of these questions comes down to how they are framed, and those in power seem to dictate this process. Truth and authentic understanding in society can only take place once these individuals step down from the top of the hill in which they cling to. What does Beauvoir mean when she starts discussing the absolute other? I was especially lost on the 12th paragraph when she starts discussing the absolute other and absolute mystery.

  3. John Stitt says:

    I read the Simone de Beauvoir piece and found it very interesting. Her perspective on feminism and women’s rights are very in line with what I have learned about in gender classes from contemporary feminists. This is both encouraging and disheartening to me. I feel glad that Beauvoir was so ahead of her time in thinking about how women are treated and how she probably influenced a lot of modern gender studies thinkers and feminist leaders. One of the starkest examples of this to me is her statement about people’s “wonder at the feminine body and disgust for menstrual blood are apprehensions of a concrete reality”. This is still something that is very pertinent today as people objectify female bodies, and yet they still maintain the strong stigma around periods. However, I feel discouraged by the fact that women’s rights issues seem to have not progressed much between Beauvoir’s time and now. To me, this begs the question of if Beauvoir was simply ahead of her time, or if feminism has truly had that many barriers to success in the United States in the last 80 years.

    • John Stitt says:

      In my last sentence, I should have said in the Western world instead of just the United States. My apologies.

      • No worries, John. We all experience such ‘parapraxes‘ from time to time.
        Indeed, most persons commit them on a very regular basis. Teachers are just one very obvious example of that. De Beauvoir, who read Dr. Freud extreme care, would have been as aware of this as anybody. We’re lucky if we catch our slips after the fact, as you did. What matters for now is that you took real interest in this set of readings, and that you were willing to share your thoughts with the rest of us. Many thanks for that!

    • Yes. Simone de Beauvoir is one of the most foundational figures in modern Gender Studies. Her presentation of modern myths by which we live was both revelatory and alarming in her own day, and it continues to be so in ours. In particular, we continue to be massively influenced by her argument against any sort of ‘feminine essence’, as well as her contention that the fight for full recognition and equality cannot be fought exclusively on the terrain of the overtly political. A variety of other disciplines – including philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, literary scholarship, and art history – must be brought together to address gender issues in any serious and effective manner. In a word, she was one of the first great interdisciplinary thinkers. While many feminists after de Beauvoir will call some of her most basic insights into question, the very different conclusions they reach would never have been possible without her prior groundbreaking work. We all owe her a great deal.

  4. Aralia Ward says:

    “Why there have been no great women artists” was one of the most satisfying explanations and I believe can answer the question of why there is a lack of women in most fields. Why I think this piece was so good is the author strayed from the traditional path and did not try to make the pre established explanations work. I have read so many articles about the forgotten women artists and while it was amazing to read about them, I felt like it never really answered the question. If these women artists were so great why do they not receive the same status as a man? Nochlin instead let the issue be what is was and came to much greater conclusion that women artists don’t exist because it is not for lack of skill or sexist men but rather years of culture that has prevented them from existing. I love when she discusses Picasso asks the question if he would have received the same amount of support if he were a girl? I think this piece is a great example of how our final should be written. Do not try to force a thesis on a piece, just as many people have tried to explain away the lack of female artists, but let a piece help you find the thesis.

    • Yes, Nochlin’s approach to the rampant gender bias we see in art history, as well as other branches of history, is to abandon any simplistic explanation and rather see the problem as system. Current discussion on racism in America tend to follow a line of reasoning quite similar to Nochlin’s. It is not sufficient merely to root out individual instances of sexism or racism. Rather, we must radically reform our institutions.

  5. Jaina Lee says:

    I recently finished reading a book called the Evolution of Human Nature. There was a chapter that focused on art and it noted the difference between how there are more male artists, writers, and musicians compared to women. The book provides several theories as to why this may be. All focused on behavior from an evolutionary aspect. As much as I loved this book, it really seems to restrict the free will of humans. It seems that everything is explained away by biology and evolution. For example, men are more involved in art because those who make it as great artists gain prestige and power, therefore more women. Reading Nochlin was like a breath of fresh air to me. Yes, we are biologically built to be humans and many of our innate feelings may have developed from primal environments, however Nochlin seems to break out of this biological confinement and show that humans are so much more capable of higher intelligence. Nochlin’s explanation as to why there are no great women artists just shows maybe evolution can’t explain everything. I realize this post is not necessarily about the reading, but I just appreciated the ideas that were expressed in the reading and the writing itself.

    • The term for the kind of simplistic thinking you found in your book on evolution is ‘reduction’. Such simplification can be quite helpful as a heuristic device, but it is a mistake to look at complex matters is if they could be explained by a single mechanical cause. Most of the authors we have read this semester have tried to avoid such reductionism. While we may see traces of it in sources which influenced our various critics, each has tried in one way or another to replace such ‘raw’ causal explanation with something far more ‘cooked’.

  6. Jaina Lee says:

    Eliot mentions that art is not spontaneously produced, instead it is built upon from the past. He explained that this is what makes art, art. However, this is the exact problem that Nochlin seems to condemn. It’s interesting to see the same concept of art be brought up but be perceived in different ways.

    • Eliot does say art should be composed out materials culled from the past, and artistic capacity should cultivated slowly. Nevertheless, the creative act itself should take place in a moment of spontaneous synthesis, not quiet reflection. While he suggests that only a privileged few are able, in moments personal sacrifice, to produce art of enduring worth, many works currently seen as minor might actually be worthy of very serious consideration. Here, I think of the Metaphysical poets. Nochlin, while praising more incidental forms of art, might still have found these poets still too ‘great’, or she might simply have disliked the way we have come to absorb them into the cult of ‘greatness’.

  7. Ethan Looney says:

    I think the reformation that Nochlin is calling for pushes me to rethink art. Towards her conclusion, she contends that talent/genius is not the primary piece of production in the creation of art. Of course, I’ve known that social situations are often what forces the artist to create, but I’ve always thought of the actual “making” of art to be almost otherworldly, and it happens because the artist has realized his/her talent prior. In other words, art is “for artists” in my mind. However Nochlin makes me ponder the very existence of not only art but artists. It may not even be that they want to send a message or “say something” with their piece, but that a social construct forces them to create, or now forces us to create. It mirrors the idea of architecture as we were discussing last class – the things at work around us seduce us into expressing our ideas on such things, via art.

    • Nochlin, clearly, is taking her cues not from T. S. Eliot or his ilk. Rather, her inspiration seems to be Simone de Beauvoir. While it would be quite incorrect to argue that these women are entirely blind to the formal qualities of a work of art, they nevertheless contend that art ought, first and foremost, to be viewed functionally. This is to say, art is principally a medium social interaction. In stark contrast to the Michael Fried’s critique of ‘anthropology’, a work of art, here, devoid of any reference to human relations would be utterly meaningless. Whatever sensuous properties a work might contain, these should always be seen as subordinate and contributing to its work as a vehicle of ‘communication’. Not that artworks necessarily contain any immediately identifiable coded messages. Rather, artworks functions as do gifts. They clearly mean something, but what they mean is a matter of reciprocal negotiation.

  8. Sevin Park says:

    In “Why There Have Been No Great Women Artists?”, Nochlin says, “The problem lies not so much with some feminists’ concept of what femininity is, but rather with their misconception-shared with the public at large-of what art is: with the naive idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms.” It seems like she believes art is not emotional experience, but I think art can be a variety of things, including displays of emotional experiences. Her main point in this statement is not very clear to me.

    • Of course anybody is free to create any darn thing they want to. And they are certainly free to call it art. That is why we have both vulgar works of Kitsch and outrageous works of Surrealism. But truly valid art is not, for Nochlin, the product isolated individual experience. She would consider that to be mere narcissism. Rather, genuine art is the physical trace – often painted – created in a two-way social negotiation between artist and sitter, each making a unique contribution to a singular encounter. It’s with this notion in mind that I posted various portraits by Alice Neel. Here’s yet another.

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