Why Women's Studies, 1974, page 1

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by Linda Nochlin
Vassar Miscellany News
12 April 1974

Women's Studies progras in general are important for two reasons: first,
because they bring to light neglected or unknown aspects of the various fields
which are their concerns; secondly, because they force a reconsideration of the
methodology or angle of approach controlling, often unconsciously, any given field
of scholarship. In my own field of art, for example, approaching some of the
material from a feminist angle — take the subject of the nude for instance — has
brought to light unexpected connections between "high" art and "low" or popular
art, and at the same time, called into question the so—called "objectivity" of
standards of judgment used in evaluating all art works; in class we have examined
the relation between certain expectations about male and female behavior and con-
ventions determining the visual representation of the male and female nude in the
19th and 20th centuries. In studying the work of women artists over the course
of the last 200 years, we have not merely brought to light works previously neglected
or passed over, but at the same time, called into question the intellectual and
aesthetic presuppositions governing the period as a whole; for example, looking
at women "primitive" artists or quilt makers might lead us to re-examine the rela-
tion between decorative art and contemporary abstraction; examining the achievement
of women genre painters in the 19th century might make us ask why this sort of
narrative approach to everyday subject matt er has been neglected - whether the
artists in question happen to be men or women; asking whether the fact that an
artist is a woman can have no effect on her style can lead us to ask interesting
questions about the relation of biographical or social context to the nature of
style generally. In other words, I see Women's Studies, taught with the proper
degree of seriousness and rigor not as an instrument of propaganda, drum—beating
or breast beating, but as an innovative, challenging and productixe field of
intellectual investigation. We are just beginning to formulate the questions and
the methods in the various fields of Women's Studies — at times, we must indeed
step across traditional boundaries separating the disciplines. But of course,
this has been true of almost all novel disciplines: sociology, political science
and art history itself had to be formulated out of new needs and new ways of looking
at material, just as Women's Studies has to be created today.