When I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I would often see Linda Nochlin out for her constitutional, determined of step, fierce of gaze her shock of brilliant white hair and wildly patterned outfit heading off to Riverside Park or over to Columbus Avenue, maybe for one of those excellent crumpets from the baker on the corner. What I knew about her: she was a cat lady; she was not afraid of color. What else I knew: she could be rapier-funny and had mastered the art of the Socratic question. To my great shame—I was a graduate student at Columbia in the 1990s and Nochlin taught further downtown, at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University—I neither studied with her nor worked with her; worse, as a “Columbia formalist” I was practically doctrinally prevented from meeting her. Nevertheless and without my knowing it at the time, once I entered the teaching profession Nochlin’s work subtended nearly everything I said in the classroom.
“Why have there been no….?” What a way to start! Students would be practically throwing brickbats! And then would actually read the essay. What they found modeled there was a magnificently researched historical throw-down that took easy traditional assumptions apart. Also: they had to read the essay! Because the title was a classic New York bait-and-switch. Once they actually delved into the text they discovered a way of writing to and about art in Nochlin’s typically live and pugnacious prose. Nochlin’s scholarly precision never got in the way of her punk attitude—and vice versa. When I’d espy her stalking down 103rd Street that’s what I saw: loud pattern and righteous stride.