But somehow my year of reading books about art and artists turned into my year of reading books about art, artists, and feminism. A surprising number of the books I’ve read have been about women and art. That theme continues with Mary Gordon’s Spending. (I listened to the audio book version which was pleasantly read by Tamara Marston.)
This book asks an intriguing question. Why is it that the “muse” historically is a woman? History is littered with young woman who frequently live at the artist’s beck and call, hang around naked modeling, and offer to fulfill the artist’s desires. Why aren’t there any male muses?
There are several obvious answers to that question the most prominent being that women artists just haven’t been a thing for most of history. But it’s still an interesting question. In Spending, Mary Gordon approaches the idea head on. Monica Szabo is a reasonably successful painter and raises the muse question during a lecture she gives. A man in the audience stands up and offers to be her muse. For most of the book, the man is referred to only as “B.” Turns out B is a wealthy stock broker and can make Monica’s life as an artist less difficult. With more time to devote to her art and with her affair with B as inspiration, Monica creates a series of male nude paintings that are a hit with the critics and catapult her to art-word fame and fortune.
Later in the story, B loses much of his fortune and Monica becomes the financial foundation for their relationship, aided by my favorite character in the book, a wealthy older woman who commissions a painting and gives Monica a small fortune. While she was my favorite character, I’m not sure she helped make the book better.
This book isn’t bad. I liked its feminist themes. And the writing, particularly the writing about art is exceptional. But something just didn’t quite work. Everything seemed too easy. When things went wrong there was something just around the corner to save the day. And while that’s not inherently a bad thing, in this case it was somehow unbelievable; like a bad forgery.