Feminism in American Art History

“Why have there been no great women artists?” Linda Nochlin asked in 1971, nearly 50 years ago. It was a provocative way to start an essay, and Nochlin knew it: The question itself is biased, and attempting to answer it is often fruitless, because “it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: ‘There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.'” The best response, for Nochlin, was not attempting to uncover great “hidden” women artists from the past; it was attacking the foundations of an art world that made it impossible for women to aspire to or achieve “greatness.” Nochlin’s salvo is considered a watershed moment in feminist art history. For that reason, it’s cited early in the description for “Feminism in American Art History,” a virtual symposium being held by the National Gallery of Art. Eight scholars at the forefront of contemporary thought about art and its history—Kirsten Pai Buick, Aruna D’Souza, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, Lisa Farrington, Jessica Horton, Jenny Lin, Helen Molesworth, and Jennifer Van Horn—have online presentations available to the public through Dec. 18 on topics like Chicana feminism in art from 1970 t0 1990 and “cross-cultural hauntings” in Chinese American art. On Dec. 11, the eight speakers will participate in a live panel discussion moderated by Steven Nelson, dean of the NGA’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. The tone is heady and academic, but with the right motivation and the ability to play the lectures at one’s own speed, this is an eye-popping opportunity to expand your understanding of American art. If you really miss the museum, give this a try to tide you over. The discussion begins at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 on Zoom. Registration for the talk and the presentations are available at nga.gov. Free.