the effects of denying women artists the nude

450px-Shakuntala.JPG
Shakuntala by Camille Claudel 1864-1943

From the 15th through the 19th century the nude was essential to art, especially to grand history paintings. Doing history paintings helped establish the stature of an artist. However, women were barred from studying the human nude regardless of gender; even when they were permitted to join the academies on quotas, they were restricted from such training. By the time the restrictions were lifted by the end of the 19th century, the nude was no longer central to painting’s subject matter. Nochlin discusses this issue extensively.
She writes, “I have gone into the question of the availability of the nude model, a single aspect of automatic, institutionally maintained discrimination against women, in such detail simply to demonstrate both the universality of this discrimination and its consequences, as well as the institutional rather than individual nature of but one facet of the necessary preparation for achieving mere proficiency, much less greatness in the realm of art during a long period.”[From Why have there been no great women artists? – Stabroek News – Guyana]

this sounds like an interesting concept, I don’t know if I agree with a central precept, however, that the nude is no longer central to painting. it’s a crucial part of training and still a key subject, from art history to now there is no single subject that has been covered as extensively as the human body.
it’s an interesting parallel to draw, that the lack of access to the nude for women artists impeded their growth as artists. but it is noted that other factors probably contributed as much. I look forward to reading more as this series continues but I find myself concerned that some of the logic appears to be a little scattered. I assume it will all pull together by the end. I also dispute the title, it’s an attention grabber (it grabbed me!) but there have been many excellent women artists of note, both in the periods mentioned and now. They have received less notoriety, but are not less ‘great’ -it all depends on how you define greatness.
I am interested to see if these conclusions about the history of women artists lead onto the current disparity between modern male and female artists.

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