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Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

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How are women, and artists, "seen" and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that "you will never be an Artist"—who defines "an Artist," and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of be How are women, and artists, "seen" and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that "you will never be an Artist"—who defines "an Artist," and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of beauty, value, and difference? Old in Art School represents an ongoing exploration of such questions, one that ultimately honors curiosity, openness, and joy—the joy of embracing creativity, dreams, the importance of hard work, and the stubborn determination of your own value. Nell Irvin Painter's journey is filled with surprises, even as she brings to bear the incisiveness of her insights from two careers, which combine in new ways even as they take very different approaches—one searching for facts and cohesion, the other seeking the opposite. She travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, such as Alice Neel, Faith Ringgold, or Maira Kalman, even as she comes to understand how they are undervalued; and struggles with the ever-changing balance between the pursuit of art and the inevitable, sometimes painful demands of a life fully lived.


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How are women, and artists, "seen" and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that "you will never be an Artist"—who defines "an Artist," and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of be How are women, and artists, "seen" and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that "you will never be an Artist"—who defines "an Artist," and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of beauty, value, and difference? Old in Art School represents an ongoing exploration of such questions, one that ultimately honors curiosity, openness, and joy—the joy of embracing creativity, dreams, the importance of hard work, and the stubborn determination of your own value. Nell Irvin Painter's journey is filled with surprises, even as she brings to bear the incisiveness of her insights from two careers, which combine in new ways even as they take very different approaches—one searching for facts and cohesion, the other seeking the opposite. She travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, such as Alice Neel, Faith Ringgold, or Maira Kalman, even as she comes to understand how they are undervalued; and struggles with the ever-changing balance between the pursuit of art and the inevitable, sometimes painful demands of a life fully lived.

30 review for Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    There are many things to love about Old in Art School. The whole idea of someone going art school at the age of 64 is amazing, and Painter definitely provides a detailed sense of the experience for those of us who've never been (nor, in fact, even know someone who's been). Sadly, I believe her that art school is just as sexist, racist, ageist, and wedded to arbitrary trends as she describes here; why would it be different from the rest of the world?!? But as Painter tried to figure out her place There are many things to love about Old in Art School. The whole idea of someone going art school at the age of 64 is amazing, and Painter definitely provides a detailed sense of the experience for those of us who've never been (nor, in fact, even know someone who's been). Sadly, I believe her that art school is just as sexist, racist, ageist, and wedded to arbitrary trends as she describes here; why would it be different from the rest of the world?!? But as Painter tried to figure out her place in this world, her thought process and creative process were fascinating to me and satisfying to read about. Weirdly, I also really loved her portrait of New Jersey. Here in Philadelphia we obviously have a close, sibling-like relationship with New Jersey, but I've rarely been across the bridge (why would I? I mean really), so it was great to be immersed in it along with someone who very clearly loves it. It grounds the book in reality in a very vivid and effective way. Painter is a highly accomplished historian who's written several other books, but this is her first for a true general audience, and it kind of shows: Each chapter has a set theme, but within the chapters she tends to meander, as if she's sitting with you telling you stories. Ordinarily this sort of writing bugs me a bit, but I think Painter has earned the right to write this way. She's been around a while and she has a lot of experience, insight, and wisdom to share. She does this with humor and verve, and I was more than happy to give her my full attention.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This one took a while—in addition to her storyline, Painter offers up a lot of interesting digressions about the art world and art world politics, so the narrative isn't always straightforwardly propulsive. I found myself—and this is a good thing—stopping to look up artists she mentioned, for one thing. Plus she has a quirky writing style that pushes back as much as it pulls you in. But it works, and I ended up liking this very much. The voice is a surprise at first, but it’s as unique as her ar This one took a while—in addition to her storyline, Painter offers up a lot of interesting digressions about the art world and art world politics, so the narrative isn't always straightforwardly propulsive. I found myself—and this is a good thing—stopping to look up artists she mentioned, for one thing. Plus she has a quirky writing style that pushes back as much as it pulls you in. But it works, and I ended up liking this very much. The voice is a surprise at first, but it’s as unique as her art, and communicates her heart and mind as effectively. I enjoyed being along on that journey with her, from eager artist to disillusioned graduate student dealing with a multitude of outsider statuses—female, black, over 60, out of sync with art world hip (marked, among other things, by a love of incorporating history and text into her work), with a firmly established non-art career already under her belt (Painter was a tenured, well-published professor of history at Princeton), and the caretaker of elderly parents—to a truly adventurous artist who believes in her own voice, her own hand, and her own old self. If my description of it sounds sunshiney, the book is decidedly not. But it’s affirming, maybe especially for those of us who aspire to make art in the face of the rest of life, or just to give fewer fucks. There’s a lot of incidentally good art history slipped in, and some good description of techniques, as well. This is a genuinely outside-the-lines memoir, and I’m so pleased it is.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Nell Painter didn't give me what I was looking for. I expected a smoother ride -- gentle acceptance, a coherent story. But instead Painter shows her brain raw -- from elation to anger to irritation, to contentment ... and finally to an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. This is a retired eminent professor willing to reveal her cussing interior monologue as she accomplishes what many advised her not to do. I learned: some art terms -- polypropylene paper, formalism artists to explore -- Amy Si Nell Painter didn't give me what I was looking for. I expected a smoother ride -- gentle acceptance, a coherent story. But instead Painter shows her brain raw -- from elation to anger to irritation, to contentment ... and finally to an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. This is a retired eminent professor willing to reveal her cussing interior monologue as she accomplishes what many advised her not to do. I learned: some art terms -- polypropylene paper, formalism artists to explore -- Amy Sillman, Dana Schutz, Jackie Gendel techniques -- collograph, transcription I also learned: Be serious. Make lots of work. Don't ever stop. ... and I learned I don't want to go to art school.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Didn’t finish after reading this passage. Page 74: (about a fellow student) “Soft little Kerry painted pretty horses. I shouldn’t call her ‘fat.’ My good feminist friends have slapped my hands over my use of that word, but my disdain for her painting sees her in just so judgmental a way.” Yeah, you really shouldn’t. You don’t like someone’s art so you call them names? Who does this sound like?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I don’t know why I thought I’d like this book. I’m not really an art person. I don’t really “get” “art.” I think the second act aspect is really what interested me and then I actually started reading it and realized it was actually about art. As soon as I started it I didn’t really enjoy it but I wanted to give it a fair chance, but also it’s really heavy and unwieldy to read on the train and I quickly realized I don’t really care enough about art to suffer it. When she gleefully described some I don’t know why I thought I’d like this book. I’m not really an art person. I don’t really “get” “art.” I think the second act aspect is really what interested me and then I actually started reading it and realized it was actually about art. As soon as I started it I didn’t really enjoy it but I wanted to give it a fair chance, but also it’s really heavy and unwieldy to read on the train and I quickly realized I don’t really care enough about art to suffer it. When she gleefully described some kid drumming on a train on her commute and from my own commute I was thinking I would have stabbed that kid, I became increasingly sure she is not for me. Once I decided to abandon the book it became even more insufferable to read. There were also pictures of her art sprinkled throughout and I didn’t like any of it. It’s chronological so I flipped to the back in case it gets better. It does not. TLDR: I need to stay in my lane.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paula Pergament

    Nell Painter and I have lived parallel lives. The events and feeling she describes regarding her retirement, return to school, change of careers, and managing elderly parents are things I have experienced. Especially poignant are her descriptions of being treated as an older woman and not being seen or valued for the expertise she gained as a historian. I related to her feelings of inadequacy and the lack of acceptance she felt from the younger students she encountered in school It's hard to wri Nell Painter and I have lived parallel lives. The events and feeling she describes regarding her retirement, return to school, change of careers, and managing elderly parents are things I have experienced. Especially poignant are her descriptions of being treated as an older woman and not being seen or valued for the expertise she gained as a historian. I related to her feelings of inadequacy and the lack of acceptance she felt from the younger students she encountered in school It's hard to write about things that are considered mundane, such as the act of commuting to classes, but Dr. Painter's writing makes the reader feel as though they are on an adventure with her.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    At first I wasn’t taken with Painter’s memoir, it felt like she was taking too much time establishing her credentials in the world of history and academia. I am chagrined that I felt that way. As a historian, Painter is a fully realized top dog. Quiting that world at 64 to go to art school rendered her insignificant, a very difficult proposition for such an accomplished woman. There are so many stereotypes she must climb over, being old, being a woman, being financially stable and being too 20th At first I wasn’t taken with Painter’s memoir, it felt like she was taking too much time establishing her credentials in the world of history and academia. I am chagrined that I felt that way. As a historian, Painter is a fully realized top dog. Quiting that world at 64 to go to art school rendered her insignificant, a very difficult proposition for such an accomplished woman. There are so many stereotypes she must climb over, being old, being a woman, being financially stable and being too 20th century. Bravo for her battles with these obstacles. I leave you with my favorite sentence....” The deaf graphite rattle of leaves in the wind.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maya Rock

    Thoroughly enjoyed I really enjoyed this book. It encompasses so much, it’s hard to describe. I learned so much about art and RISD and appreciated the author’s analyses of her own artistic weaknesses and strengths; her relationships with her peers; her handling of her elderly parents. It felt very honest. I also liked her can-do spirit. I also think she is a talented writer. She is also pretty self aware, which helps, and I thought her climactic advice about only seeing oneself through ones eyes Thoroughly enjoyed I really enjoyed this book. It encompasses so much, it’s hard to describe. I learned so much about art and RISD and appreciated the author’s analyses of her own artistic weaknesses and strengths; her relationships with her peers; her handling of her elderly parents. It felt very honest. I also liked her can-do spirit. I also think she is a talented writer. She is also pretty self aware, which helps, and I thought her climactic advice about only seeing oneself through ones eyes was pretty good.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    Fascinating woman who has accomplished quite a lot. Dr. Painter is a noted historian. Then in her 60s returned to school to obtain yet another advanced degree, this time an MFA. Look carefully at the cover. At a book signing she indicated its a collage of cut up pages from her book, The History of White People.

  10. 5 out of 5

    LeAnn Locher

    I'm at 50% read and I'm abandoning reading this book. So disappointed. What began as a cheerleader to yeah! a voice for women! yeah! a voice for women of color! yeah! a voice for artists at all ages! became a whimper of sadness that it does not include a voice for women of size. Sigh. So. Very. Discouraging. I just can't get beyond the author's narrow view of what makes an artist. Early on in the book she specifically calls out a fellow artist as fat, and whose art cannot be taken as serious. An I'm at 50% read and I'm abandoning reading this book. So disappointed. What began as a cheerleader to yeah! a voice for women! yeah! a voice for women of color! yeah! a voice for artists at all ages! became a whimper of sadness that it does not include a voice for women of size. Sigh. So. Very. Discouraging. I just can't get beyond the author's narrow view of what makes an artist. Early on in the book she specifically calls out a fellow artist as fat, and whose art cannot be taken as serious. And then continues that people who are fat cannot be artists. She even points out this is at concern of fellow feminists. I hear this, and yet I continue on. And yet, I can't continue. Really? I'm so excited about so many things about this voice. It's completely inauthentic. Not inclusive. Snooty. And that which I specifically work to separate myself from. I'm shocked to write this. And yet, I was shocked to read her anti-fat narrative.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I learned more from than this book than I actually enjoyed reading it. I learned about some amazing artists I was ashamed I hadn't heard more of. Sometimes I thought this book was written for a certain audience - mainly people who are familiar with art school and academia. Sometimes I decided it wasn't. Ultimately I feel this is a greatly important book because it challenged me in many ways. Nell Irvin Painter is an incredible, talented and resilient woman and we need more voices like her.

  12. 4 out of 5

    gnarlyhiker

    a most excellent collage of a memoir with a spattering of art history. a great summer read, too. recommend interview: www.historyworkshop.org.uk/tag/nell-p... good luck

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lydia

    I think the value of this book, is Irwin Painter’s ability to lash out eloquently at those schools, art schools or not, who don’t treat the serious older student as “worthy.” In this case, Irwin Painter is a Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton. She is black. She is 70 years old. She weighs 170+ pounds. She wishes to go to Yale School of Art and receive her MFA. She wants to be “An Artist.” She loves words; her books have been lauded by the New York Times Book Review. But one serious probl I think the value of this book, is Irwin Painter’s ability to lash out eloquently at those schools, art schools or not, who don’t treat the serious older student as “worthy.” In this case, Irwin Painter is a Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton. She is black. She is 70 years old. She weighs 170+ pounds. She wishes to go to Yale School of Art and receive her MFA. She wants to be “An Artist.” She loves words; her books have been lauded by the New York Times Book Review. But one serious problem: She can’t draw; she can’t paint. She has determination. Her parents are dying in Oakland. Her husband is helpful. In her case, I don’t know if it is a matter of completing her 10,000 hours before she applies for her MFA, but Yale rejects her. The professors at RISD despise her. One professor says “you can’t draw, you can’t paint” repeatedly. One tells her she will never be “An Artist.” She tries to balance many plates and emotions while also painting. She is the only RISD Painting MFA graduate that year to receive a degree without honors. When the art world is turned upside down, and no one really knows what art is, then what is important? And then what are schools for? Are they to educate the young, and allow only them to benefit and grow? And what is Irwin Painter’s future? Older women have been lauded by the art world in their eighties but usually only after they have made art for 60 years. Irwin Painter explores this from every angle. She is right about the injustice, if justice means to be respected. I have felt some of this too when taking architecture classes. She includes pictures of her work in the book. Her work and her website make me cringe. Do something Interesting! What do you want to do? It is the age-old question. Can the attitudes be improved? Yes. I’m glad she wrote this book, and I hope she finds answers for herself and others who follow her lead.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    This was one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years. I learned about artists I've never heard of, I got an insider's look at art school, and I learned a bit about how racism and the art world intersect. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in art, creating art, or thinking about art school.

  15. 5 out of 5

    ND

    Entertained me but I got a bit tired of her...especially when she was bragging about her resume. I also didn't entirely understand why she stopped being an historian. But moving in places.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    Although I could empathize with the author's plight, her unrealistic expectations became tedious and her entitled attitude annoying. She somehow assumed that her brilliant career as an academic should have translated into automatic respect in a totally different field - as if a prize winning chemist took a musical theatre course and expected to be hired by the Met. I know academia encourages tunnel vision, and Ivy League membership can foster a superiority complex but - how could she have such a Although I could empathize with the author's plight, her unrealistic expectations became tedious and her entitled attitude annoying. She somehow assumed that her brilliant career as an academic should have translated into automatic respect in a totally different field - as if a prize winning chemist took a musical theatre course and expected to be hired by the Met. I know academia encourages tunnel vision, and Ivy League membership can foster a superiority complex but - how could she have such a huge lack of insight about herself? She should have quit while she was ahead (after her BFA) and started painting, instead of plowing resentfully through a RISD MFA for its prestige value, and then writing a book complaining about it. She would have been happier and saved us all a lot of exasperation. On the other hand, maybe her journey was never about art making at all.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Zack Rearick

    Good audiobook, read by the author. Painter is eminently interesting, a prominent historian turned "old" student and artist. She focuses mostly on her experience in art school and the challenge of juggling a successful career while striving toward another. I also appreciated her thoughts on navigating the art world as black and woman, caring for aging parents, and pushing through self doubt — who gets to be an artist? what is good enough — on her journey.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Krista Park

    Spectacular read. I will search out more of her books.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lin Salisbury

    Nell Painter’s Old in Art School, A Memoir of Starting Over is a paean to lost dreams. At 64, Painter, a respected historian and author of the New York Times bestselling The History of White People, retired from teaching at Princeton to pursue an art degree. A scholar at heart, she was not content to merely paint, she scoffed at the notion of being a hobbyist; she wanted to learn what it meant to become An Artist with a capital A. She quickly learned how much she didn’t know. As an undergrad onc Nell Painter’s Old in Art School, A Memoir of Starting Over is a paean to lost dreams. At 64, Painter, a respected historian and author of the New York Times bestselling The History of White People, retired from teaching at Princeton to pursue an art degree. A scholar at heart, she was not content to merely paint, she scoffed at the notion of being a hobbyist; she wanted to learn what it meant to become An Artist with a capital A. She quickly learned how much she didn’t know. As an undergrad once again, this time at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, she learned not only how to draw and paint, she learned to see art with new eyes. “My lying twentieth-century eyes favored craft, clarity, skill, narrative, and meaning,” but her younger classmates and teachers taught her to value the “DIY aesthetic,” the drips and smudges that she considered “mistakes needing to be cleaned up.” Pushing herself, always wanting more – a greater understanding of art and artists and her own aesthetic – Painter continues her education, ultimately receiving an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Painter pushed past the ageism, sexism, and racism she encountered, as well as paralyzing self-doubt, noting that graduate school seemed to be an experience in humiliation. She is accused of slacking, told she can’t draw or paint, that she might paint, but she’d never truly be an Artist. “What is art?” she asks. Art is what’s in galleries. Artist artists sell their work, she says. Serious artists need an MFA, not just a BFA. The work of Artist artists is collected – by rich people, really rich people who serve on boards of museums and donate art from their personal collections to museums. There, now you know what makes an Artist artist, she quips. It was hard work made more challenging as she sat by her dying parents’ bedsides – something her younger peers cannot yet fathom. Yet, Painter also knows that she has the opportunity and means to pursue her dream – a privilege few can afford. Did she make it? “I’m an artist who lives and works in Newark, New Jersey,” she writes, “An artist whose other – not, as I once said, former – lives as a historian and as a daughter are still crucial parts of me. I am a wise old person, not a hot young artist, not a young anybody with a young anybody’s future before me. . . . “Serious artist? Yes.” Painter makes and shows her work regularly and gets paid for it. But an Artist artist? “Probably not, she says, “Probably never, because I still do other things. Is she sad about that? A little, she says, but not enough to live her life any other way. Painter is a dreamer and a realist. Anyone who has ever had a dream deferred, anyone who appreciates art or wants to learn more about art, will enjoy Painter’s memoir, Old in Art School.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

    Nell Irwin Painter’s book is a good read and it is one that checks off a number of boxes: art, aging, African Americans, academics and children dealing with aging parents. I checked several boxes; I moved on from a successful career to working as an artist later in life. I did not have the high level of academic success Ms. Painter did who is an emeritus professor from Princeton with several important books authored. So for me the book was very pertinent and I enjoyed reading it. She is an excell Nell Irwin Painter’s book is a good read and it is one that checks off a number of boxes: art, aging, African Americans, academics and children dealing with aging parents. I checked several boxes; I moved on from a successful career to working as an artist later in life. I did not have the high level of academic success Ms. Painter did who is an emeritus professor from Princeton with several important books authored. So for me the book was very pertinent and I enjoyed reading it. She is an excellent and often poetic writer who tells a good story. It was jarring to read about how much agism she experienced as she began her art studies as an undergraduate at 64. Most telling were her experiences as a graduate painting student at RISD where she describes a high level of distain from both her fellow students and faculty. I think her understanding of the “art world” and I use quotes because it is a highly circumscribed milieu that often seems to have little to do with art and a lot to do with commerce. A memoir, by definition introduces you to a person. While I found much of what she experienced something I could relate to I didn’t particularly find some of her stories about who she knows and the opportunities that seem to drop into her lap. While most artists struggle to find studio space, supportive family members, and residencies she seems to have support and opportunities most of us could only wish for. I read the book on Kindle and don’t recommend it. The art images are tiny and grey and I was constantly going to her website on another computer to try to see the art she describes in the book. Even looking at it on my Kindle Fire in color wasn’t very satisfactory. I don’t know how the images are reproduced in the print book but that would seem to be the best way to read it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    I give a book three chances before I add it to my DNF pile (barring something especially egregious). Admittedly, one of these is a personal irk, but OIAS did, in fact, use up its three chances: 1. Painter spends a great deal of time talking about how accomplished she is, how successful she was as a historian, etc. While this habit makes me uncomfortable as it's not something I personally like to do, I won't begrudge another person from expressing pride, especially a woman, where this is often dis I give a book three chances before I add it to my DNF pile (barring something especially egregious). Admittedly, one of these is a personal irk, but OIAS did, in fact, use up its three chances: 1. Painter spends a great deal of time talking about how accomplished she is, how successful she was as a historian, etc. While this habit makes me uncomfortable as it's not something I personally like to do, I won't begrudge another person from expressing pride, especially a woman, where this is often dismissed as arrogance and subsequently discouraged. It was Painter's ostensible shock and frustration that she was struggling with the switch to fine arts that really bothered me, as if she expected success in one field to automatically translate into success in another field. It's overly simplistic, and actually fairly disrespectful to the concept of being a working artist, as if it's so easy to be one, anyone could do it. 2. She describes a fellow student, whom she doesn't like, as "fat". She admits this is wrong to do, yet does it anyway. The perceived fatness of this other student is completely irrelevant to this book. It's unnecessary and immature. 3. This one is admittedly petty, but I was already so bothered by the first two points, this was just the last straw: I *cannot* stand it when people refer to their partners as "DH" for "Darling Husband". I don't know why it bothers me so much. But I. Can't. Stand. It. I was curious about this story because, frankly, my mother did something very similar: retired early to get a second master's in the History of Decorative Arts, and now she's a lace historian. I thought it would be cool to hear this story from another perspective. I was wrong.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Campbell

    This is a great memoir for toughing it out, and going after a goal that is what you really want, even if it is not what you do BEST. And, that's hard; it messes with your head. This book captures the conflict between her knowledge of what being an expert truly feels like (as an esteemed historian and writer), vs what being a struggling beginner in a culture that is not only different, but very capricious and at times hostile in its handout of compliments and opportunity. At first, I felt frustra This is a great memoir for toughing it out, and going after a goal that is what you really want, even if it is not what you do BEST. And, that's hard; it messes with your head. This book captures the conflict between her knowledge of what being an expert truly feels like (as an esteemed historian and writer), vs what being a struggling beginner in a culture that is not only different, but very capricious and at times hostile in its handout of compliments and opportunity. At first, I felt frustrated with this book, because - truthfully - I pretty much agreed with her teacher's response that you're "not an artist". And, as an electrical engineer, I am very familiar with what we called 'weed out' courses intended to push you out the door if you can't cut it. But, as the book progressed, I saw how she wove an understanding of the processes of art into her world in a way that enriched her life, and enhanced other books that she was writing as a historian. So, truly, she emerged as a emotionally richer, more fully integrated person who had honed considerable skills as an artist, if not a highly marketable painter. I changed careers, radically, at the age of 43 after 18 years in the defense sector in secure communications, to running my own business in manufactured wood products - a business that grew out of my (compensated) expertise in Victorian restoration and historic finishes. And, like Nell, there are still parts of you that are not fully resolved after the transition, even if you'd do the choice over again. And, like Nell, I also had two parents pass during the transition with all the headaches and heartache that caused. So, Nell - I feel for you!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up because I have realized how invisible aging can be in our culture, and wanted to explore this a little more. As someone with an art history background, I thought this might combine two interests for me. And it did that and so much more. Nell Painter is funny and real with her struggles in art school from an intersection of all identities. She discusses racism, sexism and ageism she experienced as part of her journey. She talks about what it is like to n I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up because I have realized how invisible aging can be in our culture, and wanted to explore this a little more. As someone with an art history background, I thought this might combine two interests for me. And it did that and so much more. Nell Painter is funny and real with her struggles in art school from an intersection of all identities. She discusses racism, sexism and ageism she experienced as part of her journey. She talks about what it is like to navigate aging/dying parents. She explores some of the harsh realities of depression and the impact that can have on support systems. And she talks a lot about art and art school. To be honest, the discussion about specific paintings were my least favorite parts of this book, they seemed to drag on and affect the flow of the book. But when she was talking about the insecurities of being enough of an artist and how hard feedback can be- that was in the sweet spot. I listened to this book on audio, which she reads herself. Highly recommend that format!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paulina

    Nell Painter has ambition and drive; she decides to attend art school in her 60s, after an illustrious career as an academic, with the goal of becoming a professional artist. This goal prompts questions examined throughout the book such as how to define “art,” how to determine its value, and who makes these decisions. As she examines these questions, Painter views herself and her peers through a prism of age, race, and gender. I do not doubt that racism, sexism, and ageism exist – maybe more in Nell Painter has ambition and drive; she decides to attend art school in her 60s, after an illustrious career as an academic, with the goal of becoming a professional artist. This goal prompts questions examined throughout the book such as how to define “art,” how to determine its value, and who makes these decisions. As she examines these questions, Painter views herself and her peers through a prism of age, race, and gender. I do not doubt that racism, sexism, and ageism exist – maybe more in the art world than elsewhere. At the same time, Painter’s preoccupation with how she thought others saw her – and with what she perceived as slights or judgements – began to annoy me. Yes, other people would probably respond to Painter’s ambition and artwork differently if she were a 20-something white male; yet, I often wondered if this ultimately made as much of a difference as Painter thought it did.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I nearly sent it back to Audible; I often think writers should not read their material, but I persisted and I'm glad I did. Ms. Painter's honest memoir about her decision to follow both her heart and mind to obtain a graduate degree in art in her 60s captures the essence of who she is, how she thinks, and the forces that shaped her individual personality and life continue to affect the lives of so many others, especially racism, sexism, ageism. I love art and wish I knew more about it. This book I nearly sent it back to Audible; I often think writers should not read their material, but I persisted and I'm glad I did. Ms. Painter's honest memoir about her decision to follow both her heart and mind to obtain a graduate degree in art in her 60s captures the essence of who she is, how she thinks, and the forces that shaped her individual personality and life continue to affect the lives of so many others, especially racism, sexism, ageism. I love art and wish I knew more about it. This book provides valuable information about how artists learn, work, and create -- not just Ms. Painter, but the many emerging and established artists she encounters. I listened to the audible, so I'm not sure how her use of "an artist artist" is punctuated. I can envision the gesture with fingers indicating double quotes around "an artist," but it might also be an-artist artist or no special punctuation.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I hated almost everything about this book. I expected a book about age and reinventing oneself in their later decades. Instead, it was a book about race and not being accepted as wonderful in a totally different field just because of your accomplishments elsewhere. The author came across as smug with a sense of superiority over others around her, yet at the same time severely insecure. She had little good to say about others unless they fit her boxes of "African American" or "black" or "female", I hated almost everything about this book. I expected a book about age and reinventing oneself in their later decades. Instead, it was a book about race and not being accepted as wonderful in a totally different field just because of your accomplishments elsewhere. The author came across as smug with a sense of superiority over others around her, yet at the same time severely insecure. She had little good to say about others unless they fit her boxes of "African American" or "black" or "female", not "white" or "Caucasian" or "fat" or "male". It's yet another book out there where the author goes on and on about her personal politics (Barack Obama = good, George E. Bush = bad except for being so awful that Barack Obama was able to get elected). The only reason I finished the book is because I wanted to see if it ever got any better or changed focus. It didn't.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    (3.5 stars) I read this at work for professional development. It was enjoyable but the heavy emphasis on art history and making was tough for me to follow without my eyes glazing over. I truly enjoyed her exploration of relationships with other artists and art students. As a current employee at RISD I can see the parallels between Painter's experience and the experiences of students currently attending art school. After reading particularly critical passages to a colleague, I mused, "maybe she'l (3.5 stars) I read this at work for professional development. It was enjoyable but the heavy emphasis on art history and making was tough for me to follow without my eyes glazing over. I truly enjoyed her exploration of relationships with other artists and art students. As a current employee at RISD I can see the parallels between Painter's experience and the experiences of students currently attending art school. After reading particularly critical passages to a colleague, I mused, "maybe she'll come do a reading?" I wonder if the university would ever let that happen. I would have liked to have learned a bit about her life after art school just because I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like for current POC RISD grads. It was fun to recognize some of the names of people I know and also have received support from. I'm glad I read this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Not very coherently written. I do understand why Painter went on and on about being a woman and black. Everyone isn’t as lucky as she to have such enormous privileges and success, and she knows it, but still it was a little irritating. What she doesn’t seem to get is that she drank the kool aid of current academic style in art teaching - the idea is everything, beauty isn’t needed, technique is overrated. This approach is ok with me, but it is the style of our times, and Painter lacked perspecti Not very coherently written. I do understand why Painter went on and on about being a woman and black. Everyone isn’t as lucky as she to have such enormous privileges and success, and she knows it, but still it was a little irritating. What she doesn’t seem to get is that she drank the kool aid of current academic style in art teaching - the idea is everything, beauty isn’t needed, technique is overrated. This approach is ok with me, but it is the style of our times, and Painter lacked perspective on that. It didn’t do her art any good either. In the illustrations it looked less coherent than her writing. She never should have gone to RISD.

  29. 4 out of 5

    cat

    I wanted to love this book. I tried hard to even like it, but... despite what is an interesting life and late-life choice to leave academia and go to art school, this book was boring me to tears. And then she got fatphobic and claimed “Soft little Kerry painted pretty horses. I shouldn’t call her ‘fat.’ My good feminist friends have slapped my hands over my use of that word, but my disdain for her painting sees her in just so judgmental a way.” (and more) and then I was just done. I had tried an I wanted to love this book. I tried hard to even like it, but... despite what is an interesting life and late-life choice to leave academia and go to art school, this book was boring me to tears. And then she got fatphobic and claimed “Soft little Kerry painted pretty horses. I shouldn’t call her ‘fat.’ My good feminist friends have slapped my hands over my use of that word, but my disdain for her painting sees her in just so judgmental a way.” (and more) and then I was just done. I had tried and persevered up until that point, but the sizism and fat hatred gave me the kick I needed to just put this one down and it will go down as one of my rare DNF books.

  30. 5 out of 5

    catherine james

    3.75 - Painter starts out with a pedantic, scholarly tone that's a little off-putting at first, but eventually her bright, enthusiastic personality gives way making for a fun, informative, fascinating read.

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