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Art Monsters

Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art

Author: Lauren Elkin

Art Monsters

Art Monsters


About This Book

A Must-Read: Vogue, Nylon, Chicago Review of Books, Literary Hub, Frieze, The Millions, Publishers Weekly, InsideHook,...

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Book Details

A Must-Read: Vogue, Nylon, Chicago Review of Books, Literary Hub, Frieze, The Millions, Publishers Weekly, InsideHook, The Next Big Idea Club,

“[Lauren] Elkin is a stylish, determined provocateur . . . Sharp and cool . . . [Art Monsters is] exemplary. It describes a whole way to live, worthy of secret admiration.” —Maggie Lange, The Washington Post

“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 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.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



In The News

“Lauren Elkin changes the way you see the world around you . . . [An] art historical thrill-ride for the senses.”
―Joshua Zajdman, Vogue

“Erudite, provocative, and relentlessly eclectic.”
—Leslie Camhi, The New Yorker

“Restless and curious, always on the move . . . A nimble writer . . . Attentive and vivid.”
—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review

“Radical . . . Thoughtful and nuanced . . . 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 monsters in our midst.”
—Eliza Goodpasture, The Guardian

“Exploring a rich lineage of artists throughout the ages, Elkin examines the ways feminists have confronted the problem of how to tell the truth of their experiences and express the languages of bodies. Art Monsters honors the tradition of writers like Susan Sontag and Maggie Nelson with its rich study of history and critique.”
—Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books

“Intellectually rigorous and emotionally astute . . . Elkin is masterful . . . compassionate, thorough, and discerning in her coverage of the lives and intentions of the women she features . . . [Her] 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 . . . 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.”
―Harriet Baker, The New Statesman

“A lively and vibrant account of feminist art that articulates the everyday experience of having a body . . . [A] superb book.”
―Chloë Ashby, The Spectator

“Insightful, provocative and at times heartbreaking.”
―Tess Little, Literary Review

“Lively . . . It is intoxicating to be carried along in [Elkin’s] slipstream.”
—Hettie Judah, Times Literary Supplement

“[An] informative guide to feminist trends in the visual arts, bringing many an ephemeral happening energetically back to life . . . Illuminating.”
—Lucy Ellmann, The Telegraph

“Politically perceptive and disarming . . . Elkin’s book does the same kind of work as the art she describes. It shocks us. It presents us with images that cause strange, sometimes uncomfortable feelings. It invites us to untangle ideas that turn out to be paradoxes. Elkin shows us how the women she documents invented a new language and aesthetics to enlarge what female artists could do, and thus made space for us all.”
—Sierra Bellows, American Scholar

“Elkin takes a poetic approach as she considers [‘the art monster’] in the context of feminist art and literature . . . Feminist perspectives on the monstrous and disobedient are threaded together and put under Elkin’s magnifying glass. Straddling poetry and creative nonfiction, [Art Monsters] invites us as readers to grapple with, and even nurture, the monsters within.”
—Lakshmi Rivera Amin, Hyperallergic

“Impressive . . . [and] so engaging. Elkin creates her own kind of écriture féminine, a new language of women’s creativity.”
—Sinéad Gleeson, Irish Times

“Lauren Elkin takes up the idea of the woman artist whose work reflects the experiences and insights of her own body . . . [and] considers artists whose ways of working and, by extension, being in the world convey the fraught nature of embodiment . . . interweaving art history with piquant criticism.”
—Esmé Hogeveen, Spike

Art Monsters is a fascinating insight into how women have broken from the historically-weighted past and configured a new language using a voice unique to them.”
—Katy Hessel, author of The Story of Art Without Men (on Substack)

Art Monsters daringly weaves links between disparate artists and writers, and shows that their work offers a potent defense of beauty and excess, sentiment and touch, ambiguity and opacity.”
—Panio Gianopoulos, The Next Big Idea Club

“Elkin is . . . an incisive observer of all things artistic, and with . . . Art Monsters, she turns her gaze to consider the art world and the role that bodies can play in that space. With thoughtful explorations of the work of artists like Eva Hesse and Kara Walker, [Art Monsters] might transform your next museum or gallery visit.”
—Tobias Carroll, InsideHook

“Pleasurable . . . Stirring.”
—Sophie van Well Groeneveld, The Rumpus

“In a blend of art criticism, theory, biography and memoir, Lauren Elkin tells the stories of women artists, from the seventeenth century to the present day, exploring the role of the political and personal in feminist art-making practices. Going beyond biography, she looks towards the ways that women—some queer, racialised or disabled—have found to make art that tells the stories of their lives.”
—Vanessa Peterson, Frieze

“Lauren Elkin writes about so-called art monsters . . . who not only center art in their lives, but inhabit it through their bodies, whether it be through desire or discomfort.”
—Sophia June, Nylon

—Rachel Cooke, The Observer (London)

“I’ve been recommending Lauren Elkin’s Art Monsters to everyone recently—it’s great on the uses of the grotesque in the feminist visual arts and feminist literature.”
—A.K. Blakemore, Musing

“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)

“I’ll read Elkin’s writing on just about anything, but the topic of “art monsters” . . . [is] a truly perfect fit for Elkin’s literary sensibilities . . . This book has some real intellectual (and physical) heft to it.”
—Sophia M. Stewart, The Millions

“[A] rigorous analysis of what it means to be a woman artist.”
―Maggie Taft, Booklist

“Lauren Elkin takes an embodied approach to monstrosity and feminism with her new book . . . and synthesizes a new approach to gaining power for monstrosity.”
—Molly Odintz, Literary Hub

“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

About the Creators

Art Monsters

Art Monsters