on Diane Arbus

Als_1-060817Hilton Als at the NYRB:

For Arbus the question was: What realities does reality represent? And yet she couldn’t bear making art that was “art”; like all those Russeks furs, painting belonged to a moneyed class, the world of connoisseurship. Was she talented, she wondered, or was she encouraged to make art because a girl of her background was supposed to? For her senior class assignment, Arbus produced her “Autobiography,” in which she wrote:

Everyone suddenly decided I was meant to be an artist and I was given art lessons and a big box of oils and encouragement and everything. I painted and drew every once in a while for 4 yrs. with a teacher without admitting to anyone that I didn’t like to paint or draw at all and I didn’t know what I was doing. I used to pray and wish often to be a “great artist” and all the while I hated it and I didn’t realize that I didn’t want to be an artist at all. The horrible thing was that all the encouragement I got made me think that I really wanted to be an artist and made me keep pretending that I liked it and made me like it less and less until I hated it because it wasn’t me that was being an artist.

Who was that “me”? Despite her horror of painting—“I remember I hated the smell of the paint and the noise it would make when I put my brush to the paper. Sometimes I wouldn’t really look but just listen to this horrible squish squish squish,” she told the journalist Studs Terkel—Arbus’s teachers thought they were encouraging her true self, or a self she wanted to be.

more here.