Shout It Out Monday – Women and Art

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Today’s Monday quote is not about microbes or trees. I know! As much as I love tossing out the nature and science quotes I have to change it up now and then.

As many of you know, I review now and then for Library Journal. Don’t get all excited, I am not a big article reviewer, I get to write 200 word reviews that help librarians decide whether or not they are going to buy a particular book for their library. I do not get to choose the books I want to review, only the subject area (literary nonfiction/criticism and gardening). I get an email from an editor warning me a book is on the way. The book arrives about five days later and I get two to three weeks to read it and write and submit my review. Sometimes the books are ones I totally want to read, other times they are ones I would never choose. Most of the time they fall in the middle.

Since my time to read and review books is so short and the review itself is an exercise in making every word count, I have learned that I don’t actually have to read the whole book in order to review it. Is that a horrible thing to admit to? It has certainly made something that has sometimes been stressful — reading a 300 page book of literary criticism in two weeks for instance — much more manageable.

In early December I received Siri Hustvedt’s essay collection A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women. I was super excited! And then I had three weeks to spend with a book of thoughtful and not easy-breezy essays that numbered over 500 pages. I went for the sampler method reading as many essays throughout the book as I could, skimming, others and only reading the first few paragraphs of a few more. I turned in my review and vowed to read the whole book cover to cover because I really liked what I had read.

So, I am working on reading all the essays now at my own pace which means I’ll be at it for a while. But I don’t mind because the essays tend to be lengthy but also worth the time and effort.

All that to lead up to today’s quote!

The pleasure of Hustvedt I find is how knowledgable she is about so many different things and how she manages to bring together perspectives from a variety of disciplines. Art is one of those disciplines. One of the essays, “My Louise Bourgeois,” is excellent. I had never heard of Bourgeois before and wow, is she fantastic! Here then, is an excerpt from the essay:

When was the last time you ever heard anyone talk about a man artist, a man novelist, a man composer? The man is the norm, the rule, the universal. The white man’s box is the whole world. Louise Bourgeois was an artist who made art. ‘We are all male-female.’ All great art is male-female.

The Patriarchs disappoint us. They do not see, and they do not listen. They are often blind and deaf to women, and they swagger and boast and act as if we are not there. And they are not always men. They are sometimes women, too, blind to themselves, hating themselves. They are all caught up in the perceptual habit of centuries, in expectations that have come to rule their minds. And these habits are worst for the young woman, who is still thought of as a desirable sexual object because the young, desirable, fertile body cannot be truly serious, cannot be the body behind great art. A young man’s body, on the other hand, the body of Jackson Pollock, is made for swagger and for greatness. Art hero.

These essays are going to take me time to get through. They demand to be read carefully and savored. Most likely you will see another quote or two from them sometime.