Make Room for Women Artists

Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Adelaide Labille-GuiardThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Self-Portrait with Two Pupils
Adélaïde Labille-Guiard
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf argues that to produce exceptional writing, one requires space, in the broadest sense. For a painter or sculptor who is not fortunate enough to be a man, however, securing a work space is but a minor challenge among the educational and social barriers to artistic achievement.

“Why have there been no great women artists?” a colleague once asked art historian Linda Nochlin. He felt confident in asking because, after all, Janson’s 3-inch-thick 1961 History of Art had cited not a single woman artist. Responding to the rankling question in Artnews magazine in 1971, Nochlin wrote, “In fact, there are no women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cézanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even …. for de Kooning or Warhol, any more than there are Black-American equivalents for the same … the fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education—education understood to include everything that happens to us from the moment we enter this world of meaningful symbols, signs and signals.”

We’ll read Woolf’s and Nochlin’s works plus Nochlin’s follow-up essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years After.” Why indeed? What is greatness? What is genius? Among the many issues we’ll discuss is the relevance of these concepts at a time when the very basis of the stacked deck is shifting.


“What we choose to call ‘genius’ is a dynamic activity rather than a static essence, an activity of a subject in a situation.”

– Linda Nochlin


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Betty Ann Jordan is the founder of Art InSite cultural tours and an arts writer living in Toronto. The “problem” of women’s under-representation in the arts has come forcibly to her attention and she is keen to highlight the possibilities for change. Also she wonders if the canonical list of “great” works of art and literature is due for a refresh.

Participants are required to obtain the specified editions in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader by Linda Nochlin
(Thames & Hudson, 2015)
ISBN-13 978-0500239292

A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
(Oxford World’s Classics, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-0199642212

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