Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

Norton. May 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781324005704. $26.95. FINE ARTS
This collection of art, literary, and cultural criticism by essayist and novelist Laing (The Lonely City) explores difficult material. Many of the themes—loneliness, alcoholism, the frailties of the human body, gender relations, runaway technology—long predate the contested politics implied in the subtitle (Brexit, the Trump presidency). Laing asserts this is not a depressing book, however, and finds inspiration in the work of the (mostly contemporary UK and U.S.) visual artists and writers profiled, creators who propose new ways of seeing via art that responds to crisis with generosity and engagement, art that is reparative. Many of the bracing, unflinching essays examine the lives of artists working in extremis, such as terminal illness (Derek Jarman, Kathy Acker) or disability (Sargy Mann, a painter who lost his eyesight). Readers will value Laing’s talent for writing with equal discernment about the very different media of painting and sculpture on the one hand and fiction on the other (e.g., Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georgia O’Keeffe, Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith). She draws perceptive insights from the biographical details of the artists’ lives, sketching them in incisive profiles.
VERDICT An excellent introduction both to the work of a fine cultural critic and to the creative figures discussed.
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