Great Women Artists in the History of Art


The question of why there have been no great women artists has been explored from multiple perspectives. While some begin giving examples of multiple women artists that have had some impact, others point the finger at the patriarchy and cite instances when women were oppressed. In her article on this topic, Linda Nochlin (1989) discussed reasons why there has been a shortage of great women artists and concluded that it was the social forces that played a defining role in shaping the art sphere. Such factors as systems of patronage, male-oriented art academies, and social institutions favored men and thus influenced the quality of the art itself.

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Findings of the Article

Norchlin (1989) was very critical of the outside conditions in which artists worked – men were supported and nurtured in their artistic development because they did not have to challenge the status quo in order to be recognized. The author wrote, “art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual” (Nochlin, 1989, p. 157). This meant that being a brilliant artist or a genius was not always correlated with one’s talent but rather the luck of being included and accommodated. On the one hand, this viewpoint is reflected in the history of the oppression of women. On the other hand, the idea can be challenged by suggesting that maybe women were more productive in other areas.

Women Artists Today

Today, women-artists of numerous realms are celebrated and put on a pedestal – from prolific writers such as J. K. Rowling to musicians such as Beyonce or TV personalities such as Ellen Degeneres. Society does not fail to recognize what women have achieved. Empowered women artists are also more vocal than ever about the struggles their gender faces and support various progressive movements to push the ideas of equality into the general public narrative (Sheets, 2016). Of course, such issues as sexual harassment of women negatively reflect on the well-being of artists (for example, the Me Too movement), but social awareness is at its peak in comparison with previous decades and even centuries.

In fine arts, exhibits of women-artists have also been getting more attention than ever. The review of such websites as the National Museum of Women in the Arts (2018) shows that the works of female artists have been supported through donations and exhibits to give them recognition and sustain their living. However, these artists are not as known in comparison with social media stars and actresses. Even such personalities as the Kardashians, who are not artists to any degree, are considered more respected and famous (Jones, 2018). Therefore, despite the slowly growing recognition of female artists, there is still a long way to go.

Concluding Thoughts

From the third-wave feminist perspective, it is easy to blame social structures for preventing the development of women-artists. At times when women were oppressed and put below men, the social environment did not allow them to grow and show their talent. Today, opportunities are vast and society welcomes women in art, especially given the support of mainstream media for equality programs and campaigns. Women may need to be bolder to stand out and translate their struggles into art. However, it should be mentioned that art is the art and pinning gender to it may be considered regressive and ineffective overall.


Jones, D. (2018). David Bowie: The oral history. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

National Museum of Women in the Arts. (2018). About. Web.

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Nochlin, L. (1989). Women, art and power and other essays. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Sheets, H. (2016). Female artists are (finally) getting their turn. The New York Times. Web.

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