Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Art Girls Are Easy

“...suitably tame for a young adult audience…”

I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Compared to the alternatives, it’s expensive and bad for the environment. Plus, it seems to defy all laws of physics (even though I never took physics). On my first flight ever, in high school, I read a scary novel and discovered the merits of distraction through literature. I was taken back to my teen years earlier this week on a flight to Regina, with a tale of budding artists at summer camp.

Thrown off by the title, Art Girls Are Easy (2013, Poppy) and the fire engine red lips on the cover, I accidentally pre-ordered a young adult novel from Amazon. Alas, I suppose I will donate it to the library at the high school where my husband works. As it turned out, light reading was the perfect prelude to two days of reflecting on how recent changes to copyright law affect academic institutions. Another upshot of reading below my level is that even though I waited until boarding to crack open the Julie Klausner novel, I got through the conclusion at the baggage claim.

When I say ‘conclusion,’ I should really say ‘improbable conclusion’: the prospect of a 15-year-old breaking into the New York art world is as hard to buy into as the concept of flight. The characterization of protagonist Indy Hamlisch as a prodigy seems far-fetched because she has the whole package. Advanced technical skill seems plausible, but the conceptual sophistication of her projects (like her pre-pubescent appropriation of Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair prints using patio furniture and Christmas lights) does not. While her peers are into Dolce and Gabbana, Indy idolizes artist duo Gilbert and George. Granted, she is introspective as a result of her mother dying when Indy was six years old, and she has been exposed to performance art through her performance artist stepmother, but still! I will concede that it’s better to set the bar too high than too low for aspiring artists reading the novel. It’s also exciting that Indy recognizes she is talented and is disinterested in masking it to fit in socially.

Although the novel is endorsed by comedian Amy Poehler, I never found myself laughing out loud at my reading material like my seatmate. A friend from my Art History Masters who now hails from the library world, she observed that my book looked racy. In actuality, it is suitably tame for a young adult audience. The only x-rated content is a theatrical performance about a prostitute, with Hamlisch’s BFF in the lead role. Kalusner may open the novel with Hamlisch thinking about sex, but she doesn’t go further than kissing. A flawed character, she makes out twice while drunk: with a boy from another camp she doesn’t even like, and with a much older camp instructor she really likes. In a jealous rage over said instructor, she cuts herself intentionally, and takes the studio blowtorch to his painting for revenge.

What Indy discovers after her pyromaniac stint is that personal expression and creativity trump romance (or at least ill-advised romance). This theme is interwoven with the female equivalent of—pardon the vulgarity—‘bros before hoes,’ which gives the novel a surprising feminist twist.