Wednesday, June 17, 2009
"A classmate of mine from art school would characterize Winterson’s encounter as ‘losing her artist’s virginity’. I have no such story to tell..." I was outside my usual territory in the library—in the Ps downstairs instead of the Ns upstairs—when I discovered Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (Vintage International, 1997). Uh-oh…vintage…yes, I realize that blogs are generally about what’s new. However, this book is too good to avoid blogging about it. Winterson’s writing is eloquent but punchy with re-readable passages like this one about art historian Robert Fry: “It was he who gave us the term ‘Post-Impressionist without realizing that the late Twentieth Century would soon be entirely fenced in with posts” (6). It’s an understatement to call it an ‘easy read’ as the words seem to leap off the page, but skip ahead and you are only cheating yourself. Forty Part Motet, a stunning audio installation of individual voices in a choir, willing the tears to come. In light of Winterson’s comment, “Art coaxes out of us emotions we normally do not feel…art works to enlarge emotional possibility” (108), I wonder, is something fundamentally wrong with me as a viewer? (Like Winterson, I have visited galleries in Amsterdam, but with dry eyes). Moreover, is there a right way to respond to art? As an artist, there are certainly reactions that I prefer above others. While I was installing an exhibition a few years ago, someone called my cocoon sculptures adorable and someone else said they were hilarious. I was perplexed, since I had been striving for angsty, not funny or cutesy. One of Winterson's many comments that resonated with me is her suggestion that true artists are interested in the problem, not the solution. Now my mind is spinning. Is trying to control the viewer’s reaction effectively forcing a solution? Does advocating for change (say, of gender stereotypes) smack of effrontery? Considering that she is a pro at bringing questions out of readers, and that she is upfront about her aim to avoid arrogance as a writer analyzing art, Winterson really is an artist who puts problems before solutions. SOURCES: Winterson, Jeanette. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. New York: Vintage International, 1997. Print.