A Must-Read: Vogue, Chicago Review of Books, Literary Hub
"Destined to become a new classic . . . Elkin shatters the truisms that have evolved around feminist thought.” —Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick and After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography
What kind of art does a monster make? And what if monster is a verb? Noun or a verb, the idea is a dare: to overwhelm limits, to invent our own definitions of beauty.
In this dazzlingly original reassessment of women’s stories, bodies, and art, Lauren Elkin—the celebrated author of Flâneuse—explores the ways in which feminist artists have taken up the challenge of their work and how they not only react against the patriarchy but redefine their own aesthetic aims. How do we tell the truth about our experiences as bodies? What is the language, what are the materials, that we need to transcribe them? And what are the unique questions facing those engaged with female bodies, queer bodies, sick bodies, racialized bodies?
Encompassing with a rich genealogy of work across the literary and artistic landscape, Elkin makes daring links between disparate points of reference— among them Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography, Kara Walker’s silhouettes, Vanessa Bell’s portraits, Eva Hesse’s rope sculptures, Carolee Schneemann’s body art, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s trilingual masterpiece DICTEE—and steps into the tradition of cultural criticism established by Susan Sontag, Hélène Cixous, and Maggie Nelson.
An erudite, potent examination of beauty and excess, sentiment and touch, the personal and the political, the ambiguous and the opaque, Art Monsters is a radical intervention that forces us to consider how the idea of the art monster might transform the way we imagine—and enact—our lives.
About the Author
Lauren Elkin's essays have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Frieze, and The Times Literary Supplement. Her book Flâneuse was named a notable book of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review and was a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. A native New Yorker, she lived in Paris for twenty years and now resides in London.
“Like her many subjects, Elkin is a stylish, determined provocateur. But while she’s provocative and firm, she’s also careful and diligent about demonstrating her arguments. It’s a very satisfying combination. She has a clear and elegant style reminiscent of other sharp and cool feminist academia thinkers, such as Sara Ahmed and Maggie Nelson . . . Art Monsters is not prescriptive or instructive—better, it’s exemplary. It describes a whole way to live, worthy of secret admiration.” —Maggie Lange, The Washington Post
“Lauren Elkin changes the way you see the world around you . . . [In Art Monsters she] embarks on an achronological, art historical thrill-ride for the senses.” —Joshua Zajdman, Vogue
"Art Monsters joins a larger conversation about monstrousness and art. [. . .] provoking new, deeper questions about how feminism can and must evolve to engage with those who do things differently." —The Guardian
“Intellectually rigorous and emotionally astute. [Elkin’s] supple narrative gives deep attention to a diverse gathering of second-wave feminist visual artists and writers . . . There is an elliptical, cellular quality to [Art Monsters] . . . Elkin is masterful . . . compassionate, thorough, and discerning in her coverage of the lives and intentions of the women she features . . . Elkin’s vision is surprising in the best way. Innovation, interrogation, and intersectionality combine to bring a new understanding of how fertile the unruly body has been and continues to be.” —Sara Rauch, New City
“Essential . . . Art Monsters succeeds in bringing up important issues without beating readers over the head with what they already know, in part by insisting that the ‘art monster’ is not a ‘rhetorical flourish, or figurehead’ but, rather, ‘a (once) living, breathing person.’ Elkin embraces artists whose stories are too specific and complex to be affixed to feminist formulas—a lesson, I think, in the art that lives and lasts.” —Emily Watlington, Art in America
"A truly feminist work . . . building a ‘monstrous network’ of artists, while allowing the work to shape itself, veering between beauty and excess, and so to find its own monstrous form." —New Statesman
"A lively and vibrant account of feminist art that articulates the everyday experience of having a body . . . [a] superb book’" —The Spectator
"Insightful, provocative and at times heartbreaking." —Literary Review
“Art Monsters is [Elkin's] most theoretical work yet, while eschewing the conventions of that genre . . . thoughtful and nuanced . . . The feminism in this book challenges the idea that all art by women is feminist, and that all feminist art must be by or about women. It universalizes, instead of essentializing . . . provoking new, deeper questions about how feminism can and must evolve to engage with those who do things differently—the monsters in our midst.” —Eliza Goodpasture, The Guardian
“[Art Monsters] proceeds as if it were a series of conversations with those whose work [Elkin] admires or feels challenged to examine more closely. I read it in a similar spirit, the pages of my proof copy covered in scribbles and exclamations, as though Elkin and I were engaged in lively debate. We often disagreed, but that’s no bad thing . . . One of the challenges she sets herself is to honour and analyse her honest responses . . . Art Monsters is also [Elkin’s] personal quest to become immoderate and unruly . . . In those sections where she does cut loose and take flight, it is intoxicating to be carried along in her slipstream.’” —Hettie Judah, Times Literary Supplement
"Elkin proves a more informative guide to feminist trends in the visual arts, bringing many an ephemeral happening energetically back to life." —Daily Telegraph
“Expertly blending astute critical analysis with intellectual curiosity, Elkin resists easy answers about questions of femininity, physicality, and art, leading the text into rich and unexpected directions. Even those well acquainted with feminist art will be enlightened.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rigorous analysis of what it means to be a woman artist.” —Maggie Taft, Booklist
“Lauren Elkin’s exhaustive, incisive re-readings of feminist writing and art across several centuries prove that the questions raised in these works are far from resolved. In fact, they're more timely than ever. The book seems destined to become a new classic. Making a passionate case for the monstrosity entailed in all acts of creation, Elkin shatters the truisms that have evolved around feminist thought.” —Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick and After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography
“Lauren Elkin has the nerve to defend the guilty, fight tooth and claw for long abandoned causes while making heroines out of trouble makers. Her book makes you take sides, change sides, change back and sometimes shout out loud with furious indignation, but you won’t find anything like this history, told in this way, anywhere else.” —Lubaina Himid, Turner Prize-winning artist
“Elkin’s authority as a cultural critic springs from her signature style of curious questioning. Rather than imposing her conclusions on the reader, she juxtaposes ideas, images, language, in a vivid collage that invites us to look more deeply. Never linear—because life isn’t—but perpetually moving, in both senses of the word.” —Jeanette Winterson, author of Frankissstein
“Soaring and vivid, the experience of reading Art Monsters is like watching a lightning storm at night, each chapter a bolt of light. A remarkable twinning of intellect and brightest scholarship, it left me giddy with possibility.” —Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A Ghost in the Throat
“A fascinating re-visioning and re-imagining of women artists who have used their bodies in all sorts of creative, subversive ways. Lauren Elkin provides fresh insight into more familiar names and works, and brings plenty of less well-known ones to light, taking us through more than a century of women who boldly took on the world.” —Juliet Jacques, author of Trans: a memoir