cover image Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

Janet Malcolm. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-15769-2

Bringing together a quarter-century's worth of subtle, sharply observed essays on artists and writers, this collection chronicles not just life events and artistic influences, but also the amorphous subjectivity of biography itself. The cleverly structured title essay presents Malcolm's "false starts" for a profile of postmodern painter David Salle: the "1950s corporate-style" sofa in his Tribeca loft, the mess of ripped-out magazine pages and illustrations on his studio table, the things critics say about him, what he says about himself. Its fragments mirror the appropriated pictorial scraps in Salle's work. In another highlight, "A Girl of the Zeitgeist," first published in 1986, Malcolm (In the Freud Archives) tracks the fresh but controversial direction Artforum took under then-editor-in-chief Ingrid Sischy. She returns to photography in a number of essays, profiling Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian-era amateur whose portraits mix the ridiculous with the inspired; Diane Arbus, who snapped pictures of tramps, freaks, and transvestites; and Edward Weston and Irving Penn, photographers who produced very different types of nudes. She traces the history of the Bloomsbury Group, reassesses a favorite childhood novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, and defends J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey from the criticisms of his contemporaries. These unstinting essays investigate how a consensus forms relating to a body of work or an artistic movement, how attitudes toward art change over time, and how artistic legacies are managed%E2%80%94or mismanaged%E2%80%94by children and heirs. (May)