"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
One of Lit Hub's most anticipated books of 2023
A transformative feminist intervention in the way we think about women’s stories and bodies.
Coming across the term “art monster” in Jenny Offill’s 2014 novel Dept. of Speculation, Lauren Elkin was intrigued. What kinds of connections might there be between art and monstrosity, and how was it different when the artist in question was a woman?
Art Monsters is a landmark feminist intervention in the way we think about women’s stories and bodies, calling attention to a radical genealogy of feminist art that not only reacts against patriarchy but redefines its own aesthetic aims. Exploring a rich lineage of visual artists, thinkers, and writers, Elkin examines the ways feminists have confronted the problem of how to tell the truth of their experiences as bodies. Queer bodies, sick bodies, raced bodies, female bodies: What are the languages of the body, and what are the materials we need to transcribe them? Above all, how can we use the notion of the feminist “art monster” to shape how we live our lives?
Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Maggie Nelson, Elkin demonstrates her power as a cultural critic in this erudite and engaging book. From Kara Walker’s silhouettes to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s trilingual masterpiece Dictee, 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.
"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
"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
"Elkin proves a more informative guide to feminist trends in the visual arts, bringing many an ephemeral happening energetically back to life." —Daily Telegraph
“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