Saturday 5 January 2019

The Element of Time

Why don't women paint? November 1979 in the TLS (and reprinted as an archive item in this week's issue) sees Anita Brookner taking on Germaine Greer. Greer had written a book about the women painters lost to history; Dr Brookner, then known only as an art historian, was reviewing it.
Dr Greer did not win me to her cause because there are even more numerous male painters of obscurity and mischance awaiting the art historian's attention, and obscurity, in any case, is sometimes temporary but more often deserved.
Dr Brookner goes on to suggest her own answers to the 'durable enigma of why women write but do not on the whole paint'. These include, unsurprisingly, education and economics. More contentious, perhaps, is the following:
There is the question of stamina: painting is a hefty profession, wafted about with fairly sickening smells, and these do not combine easily with other pursuits.
More intriguing is Brookner's concluding comparison between writing and painting, not least in light of the great literary project she herself was, in 1979, about to begin:
There is the fact that behaviour, observed, described, enacted, is, I think, of greater interest to women than the comparatively abstract reification of it in paint. I would even say that the element of time, which is obviated in painting, is of more pressing significance to a woman than to a man.

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