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kottke.org posts about Rebecca Mead

Artemisia Gentileschi, Praised and Reappraised

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2020

Painting of Susanna and the Elders (1610) by Artemisia Gentileschi

For the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead writes about the 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, whose work has been growing in stature and popularity in recent years.

Increasingly, Artemisia is celebrated less for her handling of private trauma than for her adept management of her public persona. Throughout her career, she demonstrated a sophisticated comprehension of the way her unusual status as a woman added to the value of her paintings. On a formal level, her representation of herself in the guise of different characters and genders prefigures such postmodern artists as Cindy Sherman. Unlike Sherman, however, Artemisia had few female peers. She was not the only woman working as an artist during the early seventeenth century: a slightly older contemporary was the northern-Italian portraitist Fede Galizia, born in 1578, whose father, like Artemisia’s, was also a painter. But Artemisia must often have felt singular. In a series of letters written to one of her most important patrons, the collector Antonio Ruffo, she wittily referred to her gender: “A woman’s name raises doubts until her work is seen,” and, regarding a work in progress, “I will show Your Illustrious Lordship what a woman can do.” In 2001, the scholar Elizabeth Cropper wrote, “We will never understand Artemisia Gentileschi as a painter if we cannot accept that she was not supposed to be a painter at all, and that her own sense of herself — not to mention others’ views of her — as an independent woman, as a marvel, a stupor mundi, as worthy of immortal fame and historical celebration, was entirely justified.” On art-adjacent blogs, Artemisia’s strength and occasionally obnoxious self-assurance are held forth as her most essential qualities. She has become, as the Internet term of approval has it, a badass bitch.

An exhibition of Gentileschi’s work is set to open early next month at the National Gallery in London and is getting rave reviews. Man, I’d love to go see this in person!

BTW, when reading Mead’s piece, I kept stopping to search for the art she referenced and I recommend you do the same. It’s a) frustrating that the New Yorker doesn’t use hyperlinks for this purpose in the online version and b) still wondrous after all these years that this fantastic art is available to view online with a few quick clicks and keystrokes. Imagine reading a piece like this in 1989 and wanting to look at the art - it would take a trip to the library and then probably hours of searching.

Oh hell, I’ll just do this quick…here’s every painting referenced in Mead’s piece:

Viewing, comparing, and contrasting these paintings is a great little tour through one brief moment in the long history of art. Have fun!

Hamilton: now in book form

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2016

Hamilton The Book

The Broadway musical Hamilton is having a bit of a moment right now. Ok, not really. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit has seemingly had one loooong moment since he performed “Alexander Hamilton” in front of the President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in 2009.

The show is sold out1 until who knows when, the original cast album went gold and won a Grammy, and they’re doing spin-off productions in Chicago, LA, and SF — all this scarcely more than a year since Rebecca Mead wrote up Miranda and Hamilton in the New Yorker.2 Bernie Sanders took in the show last week. And this week, a book about the production of the play came out.

Hamilton: The Revolution gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages — “since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda — traces its development from an improbable performance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Add to that a flurry of articles (several from the NY Times, which has a dedicated staff of 162 reporters on the beat) that came out in the past week or so: Why Hamilton Matters, Lin-Manuel Miranda: By the Book (he’s never finished Infinite Jest), ‘Hamilton’ and History: Are They in Sync?, A Hamilton Skeptic on Why the Show Isn’t As Revolutionary As It Seems, and The C.E.O. of ‘Hamilton’ Inc. How much bigger can this thing get?

Update: And now Miranda has won a Pulitzer.

  1. Hey, if anyone’s got a ticket and wants to take me, I’m free literally any time/day/year. Hahahaha. No seriously, email me. Hahaha. (No, really. AFTER ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU UNGRATEFUL MOTH

  2. You know who else Mead wrote up in the New Yorker many years ago?! Hint: it’s not actually Hitler this time…

Louis C.K. seeks cure for the Common Core

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2014

“My kids used to love math! Now it makes them cry.” So tweeted Louis C.K. earlier this week. His opinion of the new math and standardized tests is echoed by a lot of parents who “have found themselves puzzled by the manner in which math concepts are being presented to this generation of learners as well as perplexed as to how to offer the most basic assistance when their children are struggling with homework.” Rebecca Mead in the The New Yorker: Louis C.K. Against the Common Core.

Her life in Middlemarch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2014

Rebecca Mead’s new book comes out today, My Life in Middlemarch. The New Yorker has an excerpt adapted from the book about George Eliot’s biggest fan, Alexander Main.

My copy of “Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings,” which I bought a few years ago from a secondhand bookseller, is the tenth edition, from 1896, which gives Main an enviably long time on the back-list. When I thumb through its pages of quotations, some of them extending for more than a page, printed in a font size that has me reaching for reading glasses, I am overcome by a dreadful sense of depletion. I can think of no surer way to be put off the work of George Eliot than by trying to read the “Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings.” On any given page is an out-of-context pronouncement — “iteration, like friction, is likely to generate heat instead of progress” — or a phrase so recondite that it requires several readings before it can be parsed. Main’s book is the nineteenth-century equivalent of the refrigerator magnet.