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Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  185 ratings  ·  34 reviews
From one of our most admired cultural critics ("A marvelous, canny writer"--Terry Castle, "London Review of Books"), thirty-one essays on some of the most influential artists of our time--writers, dancers, choreographers, sculptors--and two saints of all time, Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene. Among the people discussed: Italo Svevo, Stefan Zweig, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguer ...more
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Pantheon (first published 2007)
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Leah W
"Those who lament the dissolution of the American family-kids with no way to get to Girl Scouts, aging parents put into nursing homes-should remember what it was that kept the American family together: women's blood."

Joan Acocella is a treasure. She's one of the best writers I've had the pleasure of reading, and she's one of those wonderful critics who can critique something instead of just criticizing it, who actually wants to like what she's writing about. Her pieces on dance made me want to r
One gets the sense, when reading an art critic like Robert Hughes, that the author most enjoyed writing pieces about artwork enjoyed the least. Indeed, the more disdainful the work, the more the critic gets to flex his/her acerbic wit. These pieces can be enjoyable to read at first, but eventually the relentless negativity begins to wear a bit. As such, it’s refreshing to read a book like Acocella’s Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints – a collection of her essays from the New Yorker. The source ...more
Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner
There are few things more rewarding than reading a book written by an author who is more than just an author but is an author with a very refined, perceptible appreciation for written language. Acocella crafts most of her phrases in service of The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. I am a sucker for both of these publications. Acocella's specialty is writing about the world of dance and the elaborate experience of tortured genius. Like myself, she is fascinated with the underlying stor ...more
I especially liked the new angles on Louise Bourgeois,
my introduction to Primo Levi and Joseph Roth, the bits
about women supporters of men artists, and the piece
on writer's block. Coleridge, said to be one of the first
known cases, had a friend tell him to just get over it.
"Oh, sure!" said Coleridge, but in more meaured words:
"Go, bid a man paralytic in both arms to rub them briskly
together and that will cure him. Alas! (he would reply)
that I cannot move my arms is my complaint!"

Loved reading this collection of essays on artists - Acocella writes of authors, sculptures, and (primarily) those connected to the NY dance scene (oh yes, and those two saints: the Magdalene and Joan). I've never been to the ballet, but I would like to now... I've tracked down a copy of Yourcenar's "Memoirs of Hadrian" to read next (thank goodness Adam is at the U - it doesn't exist in the Saint Paul or Ramsey County library systems).
While intelligence and talent may exist, they are useless, unimportant constructs of abject snobbery. Wonder and persistence are the driving qualities of success, generally achieved when the artist is awakened within a person. Acocella examines the artist's ability to endure despite impediments and torment of soul. In doing so, she provides a reasonably entertaining guide to the modern/contemporary artist.
Acocella is one of my favorite essayists in The New Yorker. These short articles on cultural figures are wonderful capsule portraits of fascinating artists.
Aug 26, 2008 NYLSpublishing rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to NYLSpublishing by: The NYLS Book Review
The thirty-one essays presented here are drawn from Joan Acocella’s work over the last fifteen years, most though not all of them first appearing in The New Yorker. The twenty-eight artists include writers of all genres, as well as choreographers and dancers, and the two saints are Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc. There is an additional essay - ‘Blocked’ – which deals with the dreaded phenomenon of writer’s block, along with its frequent companion, as both temporary cure and catalyst – alcoholism ...more
A fascinating collection of essays on the struggles endured by artists while creating works of varying genius. Acocella shines a light on several authors who have been abandoned by modern readers, bringing their literary triumphs and personal tribulations to the forefront once again.

"To make a career –you must have, with brilliance, a number of less glamorous virtues, for example, patience, resilience, and courage." (13)
joan acocella is probably my 3rd favorite new yorker writer (having a ranking for new yorker writers is probably a serious sign you need a life),so i enjoyed this book as much as expected. A lot of the articles deal with lesser-known writers, so i came away with a ton of new titles to add to my reading list. Plus there are plenty of hilarious anecdotes. Bob Fosse pacing around his hotel room holding a cheap Mexican Jesus statue and screaming "why won't you help me?" at it is an image i will cher ...more
Christopher Mcquain
This book is, for the most part, a selective but somehow comprehensive-seeming survey of the lively arts in the 20th century as told through Acocella's incredibly knowledgeable, perceptive, erudite yet down-to-earth profiles (most originally published in The New Yorker) of those who made, re-made, and contributed to those arts. It will introduce you to artists (dancers, poets, novelists, critics) you haven't heard of and energize you into seeking out their work, and it will clarify and expand yo ...more
May 04, 2008 Amedeo added it
It was a great pleasure to spend some hours in the company, so to speak, of such a mind as Joan Accocella's. What makes her such a great critic I think is not only her sensitive perceptions but the openness of her mind to learn new things and reconsider what she had thought of as certainties.
I have read her in "New Yorker" for years and was aware she was a kindred soul. What I didn't expect was that I would be making a list of twenty other books I am now eager to take up after reading what JA
Lauren G
collected essays from a master cultural critic and writer. i know her from her dance articles for the new yorker among other publications. she is exceedingly knowledgeable in non-dance areas, hence the label 'cultural critic.' sharp, eagle-eyed, interested in the artistic process as much as the product, the essays i have read thus far have proved enlightening and superbly written. i expect the rest will follow.
The Frank O'Hara essay was one of the most exhilarating pieces of non-fiction I've ever read. Joan Acocella writes with amazing insight- sometimes of the literary kind, and sometimes, as my girlfriend said, of the "Jewish Grandmother" kind. Though she picks some great subjects- Mary Magdalene, Simone de Beauvoir- I'm pretty sure this woman could make anyone interesting.
joan acocella as dance critic for the new yorker is a mark morris fan- so i am an ardent reader of her work.

from the initial essay, "blocked" - all about what one does when the juice doesn't run, to her essay on frank o'hara- i find her perspectives uniquely additive to the already known canyons of criticism. quite a stretch coming from my cynical anti-critic corner.
REALLY learned a lot from this book - from writers (Frank O'Hara, Saul Bellow) to dancers (Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham) to, yes, 2 saints (Mary Madgalene and Joan of Arc) - I just feel SMARTER having made it through this (I did "skim" a couple of the essays) - she's a really good writer, most of these were from the New Yorker.
I came to this book to do research and ended up being mezmerized by Aconcella's intellect. She spins dazzling tales with incredibly precise prose. She happens to be writing about dance and the nature of creativity in this book, but I would read Aconcella if she were writing about dust.
Aug 02, 2007 Alden rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like excellent literary criticism
Joan Acocella is an amazing writer, and this is a great book of literary essays drawn from her contributions to the New Yorker.

Here is my interview with Joan Acocella for the February 2007 issue of BookPage.
Every time I was about to put this book down for good, I would read a few sentences of the next essay and was sucked back in. For a dance world neophyte such as myself, the essays on dance figures were by far the richest and most entertaining.
Great collection of essays on artists you'll know (Baryshnikov, Dorothy Parker) and some that you'll want to know (Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, Sybille Bedford)--this book could spur a whole reading list for a year. She's especially good on dance.
Feb 09, 2008 Joyce added it
Shelves: librarybook
New Yorker dance critic muses on creativity. Her overarching conclusion -- that the greatest art is made by hard-working, thoughtful grinds rather than the brilliant young decadents of legend -- is comforting to those of us approaching middle age.
This book is just exquisite and I'm only saving the last couple of essays as a treat. The pacing is great and the essays need to be read in order, so I'm glad I didn't do my usual of skipping around critical essays until it's done.
Got this one for Christmas. I've read the chapters on Dorothy Parker and Simone de Beauvoir so far. Gave me a whole new perspective on Parker's witticisms and de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex."
Marissa Morrison
This is a good read for cultural literacy, with compelling biographies and thoughtful analysis of the works of dancers, choreographers, sculptors, and writers.
The perfect Christmas gift from my brother. An intimate look at larger-than-life artists, revealing their quirks, faults, and gifts to the world.
Marvelous dance writing. Fabulous pieces on Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc. Excellent, thoughtful, incisive criticism throughout.
Zöe Yu
So excited! if u wanna feel the speed and dancing ecstacy, read it! Und Überrauschung^^^^^Baryshnikov ...more
Sep 12, 2007 Vaughan marked it as to-read
Shelves: art-y_books
Check out some excerpts here.

Fantastic critical collection. Naturally, her essay on Suzanne Farrell is my favorite.
do yourself a favor. beautiful prose and insights.
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Joan B. Acocella is an American journalist who is the dance and book critic for The New Yorker.

Acocella received her B.A. in English in 1966 from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Rutgers University in 1984 with a thesis on the Ballets Russes. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. Acocella is a 2012 Holtzbrinck Berlin Prize Fellow at th
More about Joan Acocella...
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“What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite... ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.” 4 likes
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