Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

Nell Painter. Counterpoint, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-64009-061-3
A history professor in her 60s takes a break from teaching at Princeton University to go to art school in this witty and perceptive memoir. After enrolling at Rutgers University in the fall of 2007, Painter (The History of White People), quickly immerses herself in her drawing and painting classes as she wryly observes her younger classmates “upholding art-school sartorial drama in bright yellow hair and piercings.” She notes that her fellow students, who know far less of the world than she does, are better painters, and she explores how her thinking as a historian hobbles her as an artist. Her “20th century eyes favored craft... narrative and meaning” while her 21st century classmates and teachers preferred the “DIY aesthetic” and appropriation from popular culture (e.g., cartoons, pornography). Painter goes on to attend graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she feels like a misfit as the oldest—and only black—student in her class, and is also unappreciated for her intellectual sophistication, though she ultimately develops her own aesthetic and confidence in her work. This is a courageous, intellectually stimulating, and wholly entertaining story of one woman reconciling two worlds and being open to the possibilities and changes life offers. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2018
Release date: 06/19/2018
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