From Michelangelo to Jackson Pollock—ever feel like the art world is just a little too, well, male? These nine books explore the perils of creative ambition, sources of inspiration, and the perpetual challenge of creating compelling work that speaks to the world and stands the test of time. And they all feature women—as either a protagonist or an author. Pick up one of these books and put the spotlight back on the ladies.
9 Novels Illuminating the Art World As Seen By Women
This unique novel spans centuries to bring us behind the scenes of seven striking portraits of women reading. From a Renaissance portrait of a young orphan to a Flickr photo of a woman reading in a bar, each of these highly imaginative stories illuminates how the timeless love affair between women and their books has inspired artists through history.
THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS is a cautionary tale of what happens when creative ambitions go unfulfilled. Nora, a schoolteacher approaching middle age, long ago gave up her dreams of becoming an artist, and now lives a quiet, unremarkable life applauding the achievements of others. But when a new student enters her classroom, Nora finds herself wrapped up with him and his enchanting, artistic family. Could this be the breakthrough Nora has always waited for? Or will it lead to something much more ominous?
The Woman Upstairs is a masterly portrait of Nora Eldridge, a thirty-seven-year-old elementary school teacher on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbor always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, The Woman Upstairs is an urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment that explores the thrill—and the devastating cost—of being a woman in America today.
A lesser-known masterpiece by the author of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, CAT'S EYE takes us back to the childhood of notorious Canadian painter Elaine Risley. It explores how Elaine's early relationship with a trio of girls—who were both kind and wickedly cruel to her—have influenced her life and seeped into her art. Set against the background of late twentieth-century Canada in the burgeoning years of modern art and feminism, CAT'S EYE is a haunting ode to the things that make us who we are—for better or worse.
Travel back in time to New York's SoHo art scene of the 80s, and see it through the eyes of a synesthetic art critic, a mysterious orphan boy, an exiled Argentinian painter, and the painter's charismatic muse. But after tragedy strikes, they all have to reevaluate their relationships with art—what it means to them, and what drives them to create it.
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a haven—and heaven—for artists and writers looking to make it big. Among them is James Bennett, an art critic for The New York Times who has synesthesia, a condition that enables him to see and describe things in incredible ways. When he meets Raul Englaes, an exiled Argentinian painter, both of their lives change.
Fourteen-year-old June feels as though her artist uncle, Finn, is the only one who understands her. When he dies, all June has left of him is a portrait he painted of her and her sister, completed only days before he passed away. But the greater gift is the power the painting holds to unite June with her sister and with Finn's former lover, and help her understand the family mysteries she's wondered about her whole life.
In this tender coming-of-age story, June Elbus is fourteen years old and grieving the loss of her uncle Finn, a renowned painter with whom she shared a special bond. Though her mother refuses to speak about the mysterious illness that Finn suffered from, his death brings a new friend into June’s life: one whom she must keep secret, but will ultimately help her heal.
ON BEAUTY brings us into the lives of two academic families: the Belseys—a liberal mixed-race family living outside of Boston—and the Kipps—an ultraconservative Christian family from Britain. When the lives of these two contradictory families intersect in surprising ways, they are forced to reevaluate their long-held views on ethics, culture, and of course, beauty, in this contemplative novel.
Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent. Smith notes that she “has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender.”
LOVING FRANK vividly imagines the ill-fated romance between Mamah Borthwick and legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a compelling and emotional account of the friction between two ambitious people, and why love affairs between artists are as explosive as they are magnetic.
After he was commissioned to design a new house for her and her husband in 1903, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney embarked on an affair that shocked Chicago society. While scholars have largely relegated her to a footnote in Wright’s life, this novel brilliantly weaves together fact and fiction to illuminate Mamah’s profound influence on America’s greatest architect.
Isadora Duncan was one of the most captivating dancers in history. She somehow made a complex art look effortless, but she struggled deeply in her role as a mother. This stunning novel humanizes a legend by offering an intimate look at a side we haven’t seen before.
Twenty-five-year-old Beatrice is married to a brilliant—but capricious—painter, whose feelings for her turn the corner from passionate infatuation to intense hatred. Beatrice tries to pursue an artistic life herself as a writer, but she finds danger and betrayal at every turn in this darkly beautiful story glazed in urban grit.