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 reassessment of women's stories, bodies, and art, Lauren Elkin 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?
Elkin is most interested in the art these women made — as she should be; their art is fascinating — but the book also argues that this art is often a response to the social structures that threatened to inhibit them ... 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 ... Art Monsters is not prescriptive or instructive — better, it’s exemplary. It describes a whole way to live, worthy of secret admiration.
Hybrid cultural criticism and memoir ... Pleasurable linkages ... Elkin’s book, as stirring as it is, never enters the beauty zone. It remains randomized, slashed-up, not too combed over in reworking, in a word monstrous.
...she offers the original, bracing definition of her subject only to abandon it ... She starts with monstrousness in the artist’s life but guides us toward monstrousness in the artist’s work. That monstrousness has often found form in art involving the body, especially those parts of it that are typically hidden — corporeal versions of what anthropologists call 'matter out of place' ... Elkin is such a nimble writer that it took me a while to realize I was losing the thread. Her readings of art are attentive and vivid. But by dispensing with the original definition of the art monster — dedicated to art to the exclusion of all else — Elkin also saps it of its power. She moves so far afield that even her early focus on the body recedes from view ... in a book about 'art monsters,' however defined, deciding that monstrosity lies in something as unobjectionable as 'the surprise of the work' is playing it safe ... For all Elkin’s formidable range as a critic, Art Monsters still contains traces of that careful, tentative person; the text is filled with caveats and asides betraying an anxiety that someone might read her or her book the wrong way.