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the Complete Review
the complete review - essays


Art Objects

Jeanette Winterson

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To purchase Art Objects

Title: Art Objects
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Essays
Written: 1995
Length: 192 pages
Availability: Art Objects - US
Art Objects - UK
Art Objects - Canada
Art Objects - India
  • Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

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Our Assessment:

A- : worthwhile paean to Art

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 28/5/1995 Fiona MacCarthy
The Los Angeles Times A 31/3/1996 Victoria Redel
The Nation B- 12/2/1996 Kelleher Jewett
New Statesman & Society B 23/6/1995 Deidre Fernandez
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/2/1996 Andrea Barnet
TLS . 9/6/1995 Alex Clark
The Village Voice D 20/2/1996 Dale Peck

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus whatsoever. Also: an odd (and to us incomprehensible) fixation on Winterson the person marks and mars most of these reviews.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Winterson is in fine form in these essays about art, arguing, admonishing, infuriating, teasing, throwing in improbable snatches of life history. She inveighs against haste, buzz words and `microwave moments', the passing experience that passes for experience. She fights solemnly, beguilingly, for ecstasy and silence and the revival of our ability to contemplate." - Fiona MacCarthy, The Guardian

  • "Art Objects is important not only as a plea to the public to read serious literature and to read it seriously, but it is a terrific book of instruction about writing." - Victoria Redel, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Winterson can sound like a teacher telling eighth graders why they shouldn't listen to rock music while doing their homework. It's odd that someone whose novels can be so much fun to read (...) can make reading sound like such a chore. Art Objects is not always easy or pleasurable, but just when you grow weary of hearing her tell you what language is supposed to do, she just does it." - Kelleher Jewett, The Nation

  • "This book will appeal less to the truly innovative, than to a fairly tired and familiar crowd. It's a dutiful continuation of a tradition, rather than the creation of something new. In our sub-literate times, that has its purposes. This is, anyway, Winterson's most absorbing and stimulating book in a long while." - Deidre Fernandez, New Statesman & Society

  • "(A) potent, if at times prickly, collection of pieces (.....) Hers is a book born of a restless, uncompromising intelligence and a life of practicing what she preaches, of taking the kind of artistic risks she so fiercely espouses." - Andrea Barnet, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Art Objects is a book full of the passion and exuberance with which Winterson has so famously credited herself. It is also full of contradictions: the idea of the imaginative freedom bestowed by good writing is at odds with the forcefulness with which Winterson directs the reader, while the ease with which she defines good art and bad art is combined with her reluctance to countenance differences of taste or sensibility. One is left with the impression of a writer furiously putting down markers against future interpretation." - Alex Clark, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It's hard to view Art Objects as anything more than an outburst of wounded pride, which is the closest thing to a generous reading I can give it. It's either that, or it's just a very bad book." - Dale Peck, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The word Objects in the title can, of course, function as a noun, or as a verb. We are not sure what art might object to, but Winterson makes clear the many things she objects to. These ten essays deal with art and its appreciation, and if nothing else Winterson certainly displays a great deal of passion for the proper (or, really, any) appreciation of art. Bully for her !
       Winterson does little by half measure. In the first essay she describes first being captivated by visual art, and she does a fine job of conveying the discovery, the sense of wonder and beauty. She immerses herself in literature on the subject, learns to express her impressions, learns to appreciate it -- and questions why we are so unable and unwilling to devote time to the arts. Her passion is admirable, though not entirely convincing. It is the Romantic vision of art and the artist, and though we all like that vision, one must suspect that it is not entirely accurate -- why else are we not all as readily entranced and awed and appreciative, as Winterson is ? Her call to right this wrong is admirable, but we suspect she is preaching to the converted (and the bemused), rather than reaching the audience that needs convincing.
       Her essays on writing and reading -- including a fine piece on Gertrude Stein, and two centered around Virginia Woolf -- are all interesting. What surprises, perhaps, is what a reactionary soul Winterson is. Of Joyce's language in Ulysses she writes: "Joyce's freemasonry of language delights scholars, because it gives them something to do, but there is a danger that it appeals only to the acrostic element in most readers." Nicely put, but what an odd populistic (and condescending) reproach. It does seem to be the popular notion of Ulysses, so perhaps Winterson is not wrong, but we find her dismissal too simplistic.
       "Art does not imitate life. Art anticipates life." It's a sentiment we can live with, an idea and an ideal. Winterson explains it well enough, without being wholly convincing. And she expresses it seductively well, which both helps and obscures matters.
       There is also an element of autobiography to this collection. It pops up throughout the essays, and dominates several. In The Semiotics of Sex she addresses the issue of lesbianism. Apparently, Ms. Winterson is (or claims to be) a lesbian, and apparently a lot of people make a big fuss about that. It's her experience, so who are we to question such grandiose statements as: "In any discussion of art and the artist, heterosexuality is backgrounded, whilst homosexuality is foregrounded" ? Or: "No one asks Iris Murdoch about her sex life. Every interviewer I meet asks me about mine and what they do not ask they invent." Bitter words, no doubt brought on by bitter experience. Certainly, they baffle us. Who could possibly care who (or what) the author is sleeping with ?
       Less contentious is the nice book-obsessed essay, The Psychometry of Books. Growing up practically without books, Winterson now spends much of her money on rare signed first editions and the like -- a love of the object and what it represents.
       A Work of my Own looks at some of her previous writing, and at writing in general, a nice concluding piece.
       Throughout there are nice touches and well-expressed (if not always sensible) thoughts. There is not much here that is new -- indeed, it is surprising how old many of these ideas are -- but, well-put, they give pause and, possibly, reason for thought. Certainly, they make for an enjoyable and engaging read.

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Art Objects: Reviews: Jeanette Winterson: Other books by Jeanette Winterson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959. She won the 1985 Whitbread Award for best first novel (for Oranges are not the only Fruit), the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, and the 1989 E.M.Forster Award, among others.

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