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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. 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?

  4. 5 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.

  5. 4 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.

  6. 5 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.

  7. 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 hers.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Abbi

    I can't recall where I came across this memoir but the synopsis of it compelled me to read it. Honestly, before I had even reached the 100-page mark, I would've given this book 3 stars. At that point, I felt that the author was getting caught up in the thick of telling us about Art History instead of her journey going to Art School in her 60s. But thankfully, the story got better, so much so that I began to appreciate her references to art history, specifically Black art and female artists. Howe I can't recall where I came across this memoir but the synopsis of it compelled me to read it. Honestly, before I had even reached the 100-page mark, I would've given this book 3 stars. At that point, I felt that the author was getting caught up in the thick of telling us about Art History instead of her journey going to Art School in her 60s. But thankfully, the story got better, so much so that I began to appreciate her references to art history, specifically Black art and female artists. However, if you're not even remotely interested in history then you might hate this book because Nell Painter can't help talking about it; mostly because she is also a historian.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim Leckband

    After many years of a very successful career in one discipline, it is perhaps understandable to have some pride in your accomplishments. But damn, I got tired of "how great I am". That being said, Painter does have the proper humility of learning a new discipline. A beginning artist has to develop their eye as much as their hand. You can only get better if you have the humility to look at your work and see that it can get better (if not necessarily how - that is where good teachers and fellow art After many years of a very successful career in one discipline, it is perhaps understandable to have some pride in your accomplishments. But damn, I got tired of "how great I am". That being said, Painter does have the proper humility of learning a new discipline. A beginning artist has to develop their eye as much as their hand. You can only get better if you have the humility to look at your work and see that it can get better (if not necessarily how - that is where good teachers and fellow artists can help). I have seen students that sadly will have a hard time progressing because they don't have that humility. I believe that is one factor in Painter's progress and why she was accepted to RISD and other later opportunities. I did have a personal reason for reading this. I was kinda in the same boat as Painter. During my graduate school time studying for my Ph.D. in physics, I got the art bug - taking drawing classes when I could. With encouragement from my teachers, I applied to grad school in drawing/painting. So I was in a similar situation as Painter - but only in terms of an academic "outsider" going into art. I was not an older female, I was a white male the same age as my cohorts. Much of what she relates of her time in art school is spot on - and an artist who has spent their undergrad time as an art major and identified as an artist for their whole life might not pick up on some things. It is definitely cliquey, in-fashions and in-styles rule, and teachers can be just as incompetent and opinionated as anywhere else. However, one thing I didn't experience that Painter got from a couple of sources is the "You can never be an artist" thing. Overwhelmingly I always had support from fellow students and teachers. I could be ungracious and say that my work was better than hers, but I think that she just got some bad apples or they had some jealousy. Real artists generally don't play that game. Yes, we make judgements - it is part of the game, but it is usually not at the personal level when someone is still finding their voice. And that is the key that makes an artist - the personal voice. When an artist is just beginning they look and become inspired by the art that they love. And those images become the standard that the beginner student tries to emulate. And fail at of course. What art school does is try to keep that inspiration while exposing the artist to all the different ways of making and looking at art. Because it is rare that an artist's mature and singular voice is totally aligned with their initial passions. For instance my mature art has little to do with Impressionism or Abstract Expressionism - but I wouldn't have gotten there without them. Painter at the beginning doesn't know much about this "voice". Who does? This is the delicate and personal part of art making. Painter walks us through the undergrad toil that she had to do to strengthen her eye and hands - while still trying to be the kind of an artist she has imposed on herself. I loved reading when in grad school she finally found her voice - it seems like it came out of nowhere. But it was always there. When I look at my early student drawings. They are clumsy - but I see where this or that of my mature style came from. And what we see of Painter's work is the same way. As a whole this is great portrait of an artist as they were becoming one. I do wish that it didn't have so much of her personal memoir aspects of it - her parental saga was a little too personal to me, and the academic historian aspect was a little too gratuitous. We got it that Painter was very, very, very successful in history - methinks she braggeth too much.

  10. 5 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.

  11. 5 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alyson Hagy

    This was the very right book for me at the very right time. I'm not changing my career or field, but I am of the age where I have (always) far more questions about art and the practice of art than I do answers. Painter's fascinating narrative of how she went back to painting (and the visual arts) after becoming one of the finest American historians in the world got under my skin...in a good way. The book is no-nonsense and idiosyncratic. It includes reproductions of Painter's art. It doesn't rom This was the very right book for me at the very right time. I'm not changing my career or field, but I am of the age where I have (always) far more questions about art and the practice of art than I do answers. Painter's fascinating narrative of how she went back to painting (and the visual arts) after becoming one of the finest American historians in the world got under my skin...in a good way. The book is no-nonsense and idiosyncratic. It includes reproductions of Painter's art. It doesn't romanticize the creative life. It asks hard questions about age, gender, race, talent, and the value of hard work. It's given me, at least, much to think about--especially when it comes to resilience and the role of "teachers" in American graduate schools. And I am in awe of Nell Painter.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I ate this up. It doesn't hurt that I'm trying to challenge myself with new endeavors as I get closer to my 7th decade. Painter is a notable, award winning, genius historian but she goes back to the beginning for BFA and MFA in Fine Arts at the same time that she is caring for elderly parents on the other side of the country. The book reads like a journal - intimate, angry, funny. It's a ride you can't help but enjoy. She also has a lot to say about race and art school - all of it fascinating an I ate this up. It doesn't hurt that I'm trying to challenge myself with new endeavors as I get closer to my 7th decade. Painter is a notable, award winning, genius historian but she goes back to the beginning for BFA and MFA in Fine Arts at the same time that she is caring for elderly parents on the other side of the country. The book reads like a journal - intimate, angry, funny. It's a ride you can't help but enjoy. She also has a lot to say about race and art school - all of it fascinating and she sent me to internet numerous times to look up artists I wasn't familiar with. Marvelous book.

  15. 5 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.”

  16. 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.

  17. 5 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    I don't like to rate or review books I don't like. After all, just because I didn't like a book doesn't necessarily mean you won't love it. But I almost bought this book. I don't want you to make this mistake without fully knowing what this book is about. If I hadn't found this book at my public library, if I had paid the full cover price of $26.00, I'd have given this book a one-star rating. I was terribly disappointed by this book. I was expecting a story of a woman who made her way through art I don't like to rate or review books I don't like. After all, just because I didn't like a book doesn't necessarily mean you won't love it. But I almost bought this book. I don't want you to make this mistake without fully knowing what this book is about. If I hadn't found this book at my public library, if I had paid the full cover price of $26.00, I'd have given this book a one-star rating. I was terribly disappointed by this book. I was expecting a story of a woman who made her way through art school after she retired from a prestigious job as a professor of history at Princeton. Instead, it's the story of one woman's fight against the deeply political beliefs in the art world. And Painter has her own deeply political beliefs. I don't care about the deeply political beliefs in the art world. I wanted to read a story about an older person taking on a new challenge, I think, and that's not what I got. Please remember that this is just one little person's opinion. I am not an artist. I am not a scholar. I am an ordinary person who wants to share her thoughts about a book she read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Xtine

    For those who are looking for a second career, and are thinking about going back school —especially art school, or other undergraduate program that is unrelated to your current field of expertise — I highly recommend this book. I shared many of Painter's thoughts & experiences, and so in many respects, I think it is accurate reflection of what one could expect. As someone who was also old in art school (in my 40s, a whole generation younger than when Painter was when she went back, but still For those who are looking for a second career, and are thinking about going back school —especially art school, or other undergraduate program that is unrelated to your current field of expertise — I highly recommend this book. I shared many of Painter's thoughts & experiences, and so in many respects, I think it is accurate reflection of what one could expect. As someone who was also old in art school (in my 40s, a whole generation younger than when Painter was when she went back, but still older than some of my classmate’s parents), I enjoyed hearing her experience, and seeing so many similarities, both in life and in school, to my own. In particular, I thought her musings on who has a right to take up space & make art, and the privilege of being in that position, echoed many of my own thoughts. I don't share all her thoughts on art, but I appreciated hearing her perspective. Where I went would not be considered top-tier like RISD, so it is fun to hear what that is like and the attitudes of people in the fine arts program there. (One answer: kinda snobby towards design / illustration, except when they become acceptable to the New York art world: Warhol, Maira Kalman, Ben Schahn, who she calls commercial artists instead of illustrators, a term, profession, and style for which she showed a lot of disdain. I studied illustration, so thought that was particularly funny.) Her perspective on African American art & its place in history was great, especially given her expertise. I will definitely look up the art and artists she mentioned, and her book Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. I thought it was charmingly naive that someone would leave a world where they did not feel their work was adequately appreciated to go to the *art world* -- a field that is terribly subjective, and notoriously connections-based. The ending did make me happy for her — glad she has found a happy community. I read several reviews here that found her expounding on her success as a historian as bragging, and her annoyance over her lack of immediate success in school as a sign of entitlement. I read it differently, but on re-reading I see where that comes from. I think if written with more candor, and less like an omniscient historian (“my lying 20th century eyes”), these parts could have shown what I think she was trying to get across, or at least how I read it: No matter what your success you have had in life, *literally zero* of that will help you in art school, at least in technique. It sounds obvious, but maybe you have to go through it for it to really sink in. I respect Painter, someone whose success in her field few can match, for putting herself in that position. I thought she glossed over, or wasn't direct / clear enough, what must have been an extremely humbling experience. Painter did have an art background, so it is not as though she was starting at the very beginning, but I appreciated her humility in putting herself in a position where she had so much to learn; where she was criticized and found wanting; where was she unfavorably compared to people so much younger than herself; where she opened herself up to seeing things a new way (tho clearly still not perfect in this -- e.g. fat-phobic comments mentioned in other reviews); and the willingness to do the hard work (and it is hard!) a BFA entails. On a mundane note - I was also really impressed with how casually she discussed her commute — lugging art supplies on transit is no joke! One thing I was curious about -- I wondered how her own treatment of undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton compared to her experience as a student. Some of her gripes -- favoritism, unequal access to opportunities, jerks generally -- seem hardly unique to art school. I just wondered if her experience as a student made her reflect on education / academic mentoring generally in any way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Celeste Bergin

    How is it after 6 years, a BFA and a MFA Painter still draws like an 8th grader? Was she just a poor drawing student or did her schools skip the basics? Whichever it was, Painter continually kids herself about this deficiency. She learns that Gerard Richter used projection. Wow, that's great! Justification for not drawing well. She is enamored with an artist who paints like a child and has had work published in the New Yorker. More righteous indignation over how Painter's own childlike scribbles How is it after 6 years, a BFA and a MFA Painter still draws like an 8th grader? Was she just a poor drawing student or did her schools skip the basics? Whichever it was, Painter continually kids herself about this deficiency. She learns that Gerard Richter used projection. Wow, that's great! Justification for not drawing well. She is enamored with an artist who paints like a child and has had work published in the New Yorker. More righteous indignation over how Painter's own childlike scribbles "should" be appreciated. Well, despite my aggravation with her as an art student, I wound up enjoying the book. She is a very good writer and I loved reading the unvarnished truth about being a fish out of water.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    I'm struggling a bit to decide what I thought of this book. I do love the idea that at 64, renowned historian Nell Painter decided to switch gears and go to art school. I made a career change in my 30s/40s--although I wasn't famous in my previous one and didn't tackle something quite as challenging--so I was cheering her on. I learned that art school is hard, and that's it's filled with ageism, sexism, and racism just like so many other institutions. The book would get bogged down in description I'm struggling a bit to decide what I thought of this book. I do love the idea that at 64, renowned historian Nell Painter decided to switch gears and go to art school. I made a career change in my 30s/40s--although I wasn't famous in my previous one and didn't tackle something quite as challenging--so I was cheering her on. I learned that art school is hard, and that's it's filled with ageism, sexism, and racism just like so many other institutions. The book would get bogged down in descriptions of art techniques or artists and I'd get kind of irritated, but then Painter would make a great point about race or gender or age or politics that would bring me back. She also delves into things happening with her family along the way, which she ties up nicely in the end. The book meanders, which surprised me coming from someone who's written many books--the fact that this is the first for a general audience shows. But I enjoyed her storytelling and her humor, wisdom, and insight. The Audible audiobook comes with a download of the art that I missed by not having the actual book, which was a nice touch.

  22. 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

  23. 5 out of 5

    SukiG

    I did not want this book to end. While it did not turn out to be the blazing tell-all about RISD that I had hoped, what I got by reading it was a total gift. Nell Painter's insight into what it means to be a woman, what it means to embrace your passions later in life, and what it means to be an outsider in the art world (what she calls an artist's Artist) were touching and enlightening. It takes an incredible amount of courage to leave the Ivory Tower, let alone leave it for such uncertainty. I I did not want this book to end. While it did not turn out to be the blazing tell-all about RISD that I had hoped, what I got by reading it was a total gift. Nell Painter's insight into what it means to be a woman, what it means to embrace your passions later in life, and what it means to be an outsider in the art world (what she calls an artist's Artist) were touching and enlightening. It takes an incredible amount of courage to leave the Ivory Tower, let alone leave it for such uncertainty. I also greatly appreciated Nell's personal struggles with her aging parents and her grief processes. This is an extremely rich book. She is a Painter indeed.

  24. 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!

  25. 4 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    3.5 maybe? I really wanted to like this book. It was shortlisted for the Reading Women nonfiction award, and there is definitely a lot that is good about this book: the story of a woman in her 60s going to art school, the personal story of the author’s parents, thoughtful commentary about race and place in society, as well as a lot of interesting art history. But for me, there were also some big cons. Painter is so intelligent and thoughtful about so many things, yet her comments about other stu 3.5 maybe? I really wanted to like this book. It was shortlisted for the Reading Women nonfiction award, and there is definitely a lot that is good about this book: the story of a woman in her 60s going to art school, the personal story of the author’s parents, thoughtful commentary about race and place in society, as well as a lot of interesting art history. But for me, there were also some big cons. Painter is so intelligent and thoughtful about so many things, yet her comments about other students’ weight/appearance came across as thoughtless and unnecessary. I read a number of other reviews on here that mention her fatphobic language, and I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one it bothered. She also has a whole discussion of what an “artist” is supposed to look like that I was hoping would turn into a critique of cultural norms and beauty standards, but it didn’t. Disappointing. Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was that while she was “starting over” in her 60s, she was extremely successful in her previous career as a historian (which she details numerous times). She has honorary degrees from Ivy League schools and mentions that during her second year at RISD she can’t make a certain event because she has to go to Duke where they were unveiling her archive....HER archive. I love that despite previous success she has a drive to keep learning and pushing herself, but this is also a woman who is very well connected (and comes across as flippant about those connections), and that makes it hard to relate to her.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sonya

    Noted historian Nell Irvin Painter has written about the confounding and lonely process of deciding to go to art school (undergraduate and then graduate) after enjoying a successful and fulfilling life as an educator and author, all while she is in her sixties and dealing with her aging/dying parents. The willful racism and ageism of the RISD faculty and her art school cohorts incite me to want to shake them by their collars and insist that they be supportive rather than dismissive as Painter tr Noted historian Nell Irvin Painter has written about the confounding and lonely process of deciding to go to art school (undergraduate and then graduate) after enjoying a successful and fulfilling life as an educator and author, all while she is in her sixties and dealing with her aging/dying parents. The willful racism and ageism of the RISD faculty and her art school cohorts incite me to want to shake them by their collars and insist that they be supportive rather than dismissive as Painter tries to incorporate her knowledge of history and her own place in as an African American woman and is bullied and scorned for that impulse. If you choose to read this book, I'd advise against using a Kindle because the photographs of Painter's art is completely muddled in the format.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

    Intensely readable and often funny look at an eminent historian's decision to attend art school at 64. The tone can be imperious -- Painter's amazing and prolific scholarship has earned her that right -- but she is also frequently humble about her own short comings and expectations. Ultimately inspiring story about the need to continue to challenge and humble yourself.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Picked up out of a voyeuristic curiosity, but this book rather spoke to my heart. “Kevin wondered what earthly power could explain my progress, but it was no secret to me. My answer? My old standbys: education and hard work (256).”

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Thornton

    I LOVED this but I don’t think it would have the same appeal for general readership. You have to be into the arts or art history, and maybe even old, to fully appreciate, I think.

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