Art for the Ladylike: An Autobiography Through Other Lives

Whitney Otto. Mad Creek, $23.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-8142-5782-1
In this inviting blend of biography and memoir, novelist Otto (How to Make an American Quilt) examines her life in terms of the women artists who influenced her, asking, “Is there any social effect when a woman is explicit in her observing?” She starts with photographer Sally Mann, whose controversial photos of her children (sometimes nude) grew out of a summer vacation: “Kids are careless early chapters that only adults see as stories they mistakenly believe they can write,” Otto reflects. The author asks “why did I fall so hard” for the work of Madame Yevonde, a color photographer from the 1930s when color was considered “lesser” and feminine, concluding she “is exactly my kind of feminist.” A chapter on “quintessential Bad Girl” Lee Miller has Otto ruminating on familial gender roles: “why is it that a traditional heart can still beat in the wildest girl,” Otto asks. While there are a few unconvincing claims—that Humbert Humbert “loved” Lolita, for example—Otto provides a fascinating tour of art through the lens of her own experience. Creatives of all sorts will enjoy Otto’s wide-ranging insights. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/18/2020
Release date: 03/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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