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Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  761 ratings  ·  168 reviews
How are women, and artists, "seen" and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that "you will never be an Artist"—who defines "an Artist," and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of be ...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Counterpoint
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Melinda I am 3/4 of the way through it, and there is not that much in my opinion.

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3.53  · 
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 ·  761 ratings  ·  168 reviews

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Julie Ehlers
There are many things to love about Old in Art School. The whole idea of someone going art school at the age of 64 is amazing, and Painter definitely provides a detailed sense of the experience for those of us who've never been (nor, in fact, even know someone who's been). Sadly, I believe her that art school is just as sexist, racist, ageist, and wedded to arbitrary trends as she describes here; why would it be different from the rest of the world?!? But as Painter tried to figure out her place ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one took a while—in addition to her storyline, Painter offers up a lot of interesting digressions about the art world and art world politics, so the narrative isn't always straightforwardly propulsive. I found myself—and this is a good thing—stopping to look up artists she mentioned, for one thing. Plus she has a quirky writing style that pushes back as much as it pulls you in. But it works, and I ended up liking this very much. The voice is a surprise at first, but it’s as unique as her ar ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Didn’t finish after reading this passage. Page 74: (about a fellow student) “Soft little Kerry painted pretty horses. I shouldn’t call her ‘fat.’ My good feminist friends have slapped my hands over my use of that word, but my disdain for her painting sees her in just so judgmental a way.” Yeah, you really shouldn’t. You don’t like someone’s art so you call them names?
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Nell Painter didn't give me what I was looking for. I expected a smoother ride -- gentle acceptance, a coherent story. But instead Painter shows her brain raw -- from elation to anger to irritation, to contentment ... and finally to an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. This is a retired eminent professor willing to reveal her cussing interior monologue as she accomplishes what many advised her not to do.
I learned:
some art terms -- polypropylene paper, formalism
artists to explore -- Amy Si
Jul 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Although I could empathize with the author's plight, her unrealistic expectations became tedious and her entitled attitude annoying. She somehow assumed that her brilliant career as an academic should have translated into automatic respect in a totally different field - as if a prize winning chemist took a musical theatre course and expected to be hired by the Met. I know academia encourages tunnel vision, and Ivy League membership can foster a superiority complex but - how could she have such a ...more
Paula Pergament
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nell Painter and I have lived parallel lives. The events and feeling she describes regarding her retirement, return to school, change of careers, and managing elderly parents are things I have experienced. Especially poignant are her descriptions of being treated as an older woman and not being seen or valued for the expertise she gained as a historian. I related to her feelings of inadequacy and the lack of acceptance she felt from the younger students she encountered in school It's hard to wri ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I learned more from than this book than I actually enjoyed reading it. I learned about some amazing artists I was ashamed I hadn't heard more of. Sometimes I thought this book was written for a certain audience - mainly people who are familiar with art school and academia. Sometimes I decided it wasn't. Ultimately I feel this is a greatly important book because it challenged me in many ways. Nell Irvin Painter is an incredible, talented and resilient woman and we need more voices like hers.
LeAnn Locher
I'm at 50% read and I'm abandoning reading this book. So disappointed. What began as a cheerleader to yeah! a voice for women! yeah! a voice for women of color! yeah! a voice for artists at all ages! became a whimper of sadness that it does not include a voice for women of size. Sigh. So. Very. Discouraging. I just can't get beyond the author's narrow view of what makes an artist.
Early on in the book she specifically calls out a fellow artist as fat, and whose art cannot be taken as serious. An
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: creativity
I don't like to rate or review books I don't like. After all, just because I didn't like a book doesn't necessarily mean you won't love it.

But I almost bought this book. I don't want you to make this mistake without fully knowing what this book is about.

If I hadn't found this book at my public library, if I had paid the full cover price of $26.00, I'd have given this book a one-star rating.

I was terribly disappointed by this book. I was expecting a story of a woman who made her way through art
In terms of racism, ageism, and sexism in graduate art programs, I'm not sure there was anything new here. Painter's difficulties with juggling "real-life" responsibilities and grad school are also nothing new to folks going back to school later in life, and no helpful suggestions were offered. There were some parts that sounded like an art history textbook and many detailed descriptions of Painter's own work, her step by step processes, the numerous "crits," most of them negative, phone calls o ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I ate this up. It doesn't hurt that I'm trying to challenge myself with new endeavors as I get closer to my 7th decade. Painter is a notable, award winning, genius historian but she goes back to the beginning for BFA and MFA in Fine Arts at the same time that she is caring for elderly parents on the other side of the country. The book reads like a journal - intimate, angry, funny. It's a ride you can't help but enjoy. She also has a lot to say about race and art school - all of it fascinating an ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I can't recall where I came across this memoir but the synopsis of it compelled me to read it. Honestly, before I had even reached the 100-page mark, I would've given this book 3 stars. At that point, I felt that the author was getting caught up in the thick of telling us about Art History instead of her journey going to Art School in her 60s. But thankfully, the story got better, so much so that I began to appreciate her references to art history, specifically Black art and female artists. Howe ...more
Lory Sakay
May 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club-reads
Okay. This was not a book I could sit and read through. I skimmed, and then skimmed some more. I didn't DNF it, but I didn't really read every chapter either. The writing is very quirky and a bit hard to follow along. She writes about something and then jumps to something else without warning. There's no steady flow. She intermittently reflects on attempting to care for her ailing parents and often mentions her past writing accomplishments but doesn't connect those experiences to their value in ...more
Jim Leckband
Aug 22, 2018 rated it liked it
After many years of a very successful career in one discipline, it is perhaps understandable to have some pride in your accomplishments. But damn, I got tired of "how great I am".

That being said, Painter does have the proper humility of learning a new discipline. A beginning artist has to develop their eye as much as their hand. You can only get better if you have the humility to look at your work and see that it can get better (if not necessarily how - that is where good teachers and fellow art
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think the value of this book, is Irwin Painter’s ability to lash out eloquently at those schools, art schools or not, who don’t treat the serious older student as “worthy.” In this case, Irwin Painter is a Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton. She is black. She is 70 years old. She weighs 170+ pounds. She wishes to go to Yale School of Art and receive her MFA. She wants to be “An Artist.” She loves words; her books have been lauded by the New York Times Book Review. But one serious probl ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
I don’t know why I thought I’d like this book. I’m not really an art person. I don’t really “get” “art.” I think the second act aspect is really what interested me and then I actually started reading it and realized it was actually about art. As soon as I started it I didn’t really enjoy it but I wanted to give it a fair chance, but also it’s really heavy and unwieldy to read on the train and I quickly realized I don’t really care enough about art to suffer it. When she gleefully described some ...more
Alyson Hagy
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was the very right book for me at the very right time. I'm not changing my career or field, but I am of the age where I have (always) far more questions about art and the practice of art than I do answers. Painter's fascinating narrative of how she went back to painting (and the visual arts) after becoming one of the finest American historians in the world got under my a good way. The book is no-nonsense and idiosyncratic. It includes reproductions of Painter's art. It doesn't rom ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
At first I wasn’t taken with Painter’s memoir, it felt like she was taking too much time establishing her credentials in the world of history and academia. I am chagrined that I felt that way. As a historian, Painter is a fully realized top dog. Quiting that world at 64 to go to art school rendered her insignificant, a very difficult proposition for such an accomplished woman. There are so many stereotypes she must climb over, being old, being a woman, being financially stable and being too 20th ...more
Jun 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Fascinating woman who has accomplished quite a lot. Dr. Painter is a noted historian. Then in her 60s returned to school to obtain yet another advanced degree, this time an MFA.

Look carefully at the cover. At a book signing she indicated its a collage of cut up pages from her book, The History of White People.
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir-biography, art
For those who are looking for a second career, and are thinking about going back school —especially art school, or other undergraduate program that is unrelated to your current field of expertise — I highly recommend this book. I shared many of Painter's thoughts & experiences, and so in many respects, I think it is accurate reflection of what one could expect.

As someone who was also old in art school (in my 40s, a whole generation younger than when Painter was when she went back, but still
Nov 02, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn’t finish. Narcissistic
May 15, 2019 rated it did not like it
Let me begin with, to the author:
1) Kudos for the numerous outstanding professional and personal accomplishments
and for the many achievements she certainly has in her future.
2) Thank you for reminding me of the importance of lifelong learning. And I do mean LIFElong, not just when we reach a certain age bracket as is often conjured when using this term.

However, I can't say I liked this book.
1) I've never taken an art appreciation class or art history course. Given what I wrote above maybe I sh
Feb 28, 2019 rated it liked it
This was one of my most anticipated reads this month, and there was something missing for me. I finished reading it weeks ago and forgot to rate it then. I have forgotten a lot about the book, but this is what I remember: The author talks about how to get into art school and art grad school, she mentions the age difference between her classmates and her (can we call them her peers?), and the themes she explores in her art are the same ones that interest her as a historian.
Susie Fernandes
May 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this book, sadly it was disappointing. Full disclosure, I didn’t finish the book, I gave up after chapter 15. The author is a well regarded historian, professor and author however her memoir lacked any emotion. It read very academic and I couldn’t relate to her at all.
Celeste Bergin
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
How is it after 6 years, a BFA and a MFA Painter still draws like an 8th grader? Was she just a poor drawing student or did her schools skip the basics? Whichever it was, Painter continually kids herself about this deficiency. She learns that Gerard Richter used projection. Wow, that's great! Justification for not drawing well. She is enamored with an artist who paints like a child and has had work published in the New Yorker. More righteous indignation over how Painter's own childlike scribbles ...more
I'm struggling a bit to decide what I thought of this book. I do love the idea that at 64, renowned historian Nell Painter decided to switch gears and go to art school. I made a career change in my 30s/40s--although I wasn't famous in my previous one and didn't tackle something quite as challenging--so I was cheering her on. I learned that art school is hard, and that's it's filled with ageism, sexism, and racism just like so many other institutions. The book would get bogged down in description ...more
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A point of order (because you will find out late in the book this information). Nell Irvin Painter is the the historian of such books as "The History of White People" and "Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol.
Nell Painter is the artist. She left a full time storied career as an historian to study art at Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey. Thanks to her husband, she was able to leave her job and attend school full time. I love how Nell expresses being conflicted (am I good enough to be an
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
a most excellent collage of a memoir with a spattering of art history. a great summer read, too.

recommend interview:

good luck
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I did not want this book to end. While it did not turn out to be the blazing tell-all about RISD that I had hoped, what I got by reading it was a total gift. Nell Painter's insight into what it means to be a woman, what it means to embrace your passions later in life, and what it means to be an outsider in the art world (what she calls an artist's Artist) were touching and enlightening. It takes an incredible amount of courage to leave the Ivory Tower, let alone leave it for such uncertainty. I ...more
Cheryl Campbell
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great memoir for toughing it out, and going after a goal that is what you really want, even if it is not what you do BEST. And, that's hard; it messes with your head. This book captures the conflict between her knowledge of what being an expert truly feels like (as an esteemed historian and writer), vs what being a struggling beginner in a culture that is not only different, but very capricious and at times hostile in its handout of compliments and opportunity. At first, I felt frustra ...more
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ACPL Online Book ...: Retiring to higher education 1 11 Jun 19, 2018 09:42AM  

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Nell Irvin Painter is an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century. She is retired from Princeton University, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians. She also served as president of the Southern Historical Association.

She was born Nell Irvin to Dona and Frank E. Irvin, Sr. She had an older brother Frank who died young. Her fa