A Studio of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction

A Studio of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction

A Studio of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction

A Studio of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction

Synopsis

A Studio of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction is a critical study of the portrayal of women artists in nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels in English, including British, American, Irish, and Canadian women writers. This book traces the gradual progression from amateur parlor painters in the novels of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and others, to the serious professional painters depicted by contemporary writers such as Margaret Atwood. Mary Gordon, and A. S. Byatt. In fiction as in history, the woman artist's working space enlarges through time - by uneven steps - from a portfolio in a cupboard to a studio or atelier where work may be completed and prepared for sale or exhibition. This working space is a measure of the claim that the artist makes upon the world.

Excerpt

“Stupid girl,” I imagined these men [Picasso, Matisse] saying to
me.… “You can be one or the other, a woman who desires and
is desired or a painter. Choose.”

—Mary Gordon, Spending

WHEN A WOMAN NOVELIST PORTRAYS A WOMAN ARTIST PAINTING IN HER studio, the reader is invited to reflect upon women’s creativity and their struggles to attain a space in which to create. A künstlerroman, by definition, tells the story of an artist’s intellectual and emotional growth; usually it describes an inward journey leading to a discovery of the artist’s vocation. A critical examination of many such novels, considered chronologically, tells the larger story of women’s long journey into the world of professional art. Although much has been written about portraits of artists in novels by women, most of these critical studies interpret the term “artist” broadly, to include writers and musicians as well as painters. A narrower definition of the künstlerroman, one that restricts it to works about visual artists, allows for a sharper focus on the many and varied transactions between the sister arts of painting and fiction. In order to portray a visual artist, the novelist is obliged to conjure out of words, literally black print on a white page, the colors of the artist’s imaginative vision and her work. When she creates a visual artist as, perhaps, a rather mysterious sister, the novelist begins an implicit or explicit dialogue between herself as a writer and the fictional painter.

Novels portraying women artists and their art invariably dramatize the risks women experience when they begin to work seriously as painters. When Lily Briscoe begins to paint in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, she thinks of herself as venturing down a dark corridor, swimming in high seas, or walking on a narrow plank above water.

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