In Misère, famed art historian Linda Nochlin reveals how, in the new form of civilization produced by the Industrial Revolution, in which the phenomenal growth of wealth occurred alongside an expansion of squalor, writers and artists of the nineteenth century used their craft to come to terms with what were often new and unprecedented social, material, and psychological circumstances.
...her insights into the institutional construction of artistic greatness remain both uncommonly muscular and dismally relevant ... This is a short book, and rushed in places. Nochlin pans a “farcical” exhibition on prostitution at Paris’s Musée d’Orsay in just a few sentences, without much detail, and her assessment of four Irish hunger memorials is also slim — she concedes that she could not travel to see most of them. What endures in this final book, though, is a fixation with the past as a portal to present misères.
Nochlin does not promise a survey...instead she selects pertinent case studies of distinct situations of poverty, employing satisfyingly rigorous visual analysis to offer her interpretation. Her choices can be surprisingly diverse and at times leap around, but are considered within a wider historical timeframe and in relation to each other ... It is strong visual analysis which convincingly supports Nochlin’s interpretations and singles out key identifying symbols artists have chosen to signify misery ... Misère is formidably astute and insightful, using absorbing visual analysis to untangle a deeply complex social issue. This has clearly been a heartfelt effort in an underexplored area of art history.
It is an eclectic revision. You expect Honoré Daumier’s and Gustave Doré’s socially conscious illustrations, but Nochlin casts a broader net ... [Nochlin] is surely right that not to refresh our focus is to risk turning culture into 'ritualised entombment, the burial celebration of dead artefacts by ossified sensibilities.' Asking us to look again, this slim, erudite, enlightened volume is a heartfelt coda to her oeuvre.