Susan Wagner

In 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin published a paradigm-shifting essay entitled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” By begging the question, the now classic title implied that its premise was a self-evident truth: that there were not, nor had there ever been, any great women artists. Through this rhetorical sleight-of-hand, Nochlin called attention to a central problem in art history: greatness in visual art traditionally is assumed to be self-evident. From this it follows that the canon of great artists was formed naturally and objectively, and that women’s absence from the canon signals their relative lack of greatness. Since the publication of Nochlin’s essay, artists, art historians, and curators have experimented with myriad strategies to challenge the canon’s self-evident authority and to interrogate or push against the very notion of self-evident truth. Building on the work of these artists and art historians, my Spring 2022 section of ARTH 799 (Art and Gender) will engage in a semester-long project to build a website related to the theme of “self/evidence” in the history of art and feminist art.

A central premise of feminist art history is that the traditional writing of art history—in traditional media, such as printed monographic texts—is underpinned by patriarchal ideologies. How might new, digital media help us think outside of, or challenge, those ideologies? How might new media help us achieve a paradigm shift? Students will identify and critique existing web resources on art and gender, and help shape our website’s contribution to, and intervention in, the field. The project will start out with some set parameters (sections devoted to approaches new and old) to give us a baseline, but it is open-ended. Students will be encouraged to think about how to create a site that is a provocation, a disruption, a call to arms. How do we present information in a way that challenges “self-evident” ideas about how history should be written, and what art can and cannot be?