Discovering art through fiction

I think it’s safe to say that here at ArLiSNAP, we all love art and we all love books. This month I ran into a couple of art/book intersections I found really fascinating. The first is a great post by Scott Indrisek on artsy where 18 artists share books that have inspired them.

This is a fun, kind of back-door way to find artists you might connect with. I found myself clicking through to see the work of artists who like the same books as me. Artist Shara Hughes shares my love for Eckhart Tolle’s mind-bending spiritual book A New Earth, and her collage-like, colorful paintings really appeal to me.

Kevin Wilson’s novel The Family Fang is a book I often put on my staff picks shelf when I worked at a public library. It chronicles the misadventures of a dysfunctional family in which the parents use their children as props in public art performances. Turns out this is one of provocative painter Betty Tompkin’s “favorite novels about art.”

Check out the list: do you see any of your own favorite titles mentioned here?

The second art/book intersection I noticed this month is Sara Baume’s novel A Line Made by Walking. Baume takes the title from Richard Long’s 1967 photograph of the same name, showing, as you might expect, a line he made by walking:

A Line Made by Walking 1967 Richard Long born 1945 Purchased 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P07149

 

But Baume’s use of specific art works is hardly limited to the novel’s title. The book centers on Frankie, a young artist floundering in a disorienting depression. Almost as if she’s planting markers in the ground, Frankie periodically “tests herself”, describing art works related to a particular subject. As she pulls her beloved, late grandmother’s bicycle out of a shed:

Works about Sheds, I test myself: Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. In 1991 the Banbury Army School of Ammunition agreed to blow up a perfectly ordinary garden shed at the artist’s request…

These are real works of art with real historical context, that somehow Baume deftly fits into the life and thoughts of her fictional character. I didn’t immediately recognize the artist Cornelia Parker by name, but the description of Cold Dark Matter reminded me of a work I’d seen at the ICA Boston. A quick Google search surfaced the piece: Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), which I then read about at length.

Cornelia Parker, Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999. Charcoal, wire, pins, and nails, 144 × 60 × 72 inches (365.8 × 152.4 × 182.9 cm). Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography. © Cornelia Parker

Baume includes an index of artworks, listed by chapter, at the end of the novel. Many I’ve studied (Vito Acconci’s Following Piece, Tracy Emin’s My Bed), some I’ve seen (Christian Marclay’s The Clock), but most were new to me. This was such a unique way to encounter art; because I was deeply involved with the character and her struggles, I cared about the specific works of art that had affected her and were now helping her find her way. I often stopped to look things up, such as Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstones, which I find indescribably moving. These sculptures many have left me cold, had I discovered them without Baume leading me there.

 

I leave you with this short video showing Laib’s meditative creative process, and a very strong recommendation to read A Line Made by Walking this summer!

 

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