Elevate Difference

A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Arts, Politics, and Daily Life

A Decade of Negative Thinking is a collection of essays on feminism, paintings, and feminist art history. As a teacher of graduate students, Schor’s experience provides us with practical and theoretical background to an artist’s commitment to contemporary art.

The main theme of the study encompasses the ideas and images from Schor’s earlier life that were significant in influencing her artistic direction. The underlying theme explores the ways in which the past is perceived either consciously or subconsciously by people, and how easily it is to be misguided when forming our current views and opinions because of the undue influence of past styles. The artist writes as a New Yorker because she considers this city to be the center of the world art market, and an inspiring place from which to observe contemporary art and culture.

In part one, "She Said, She Said: Feminist Debates, 1971-2009," Schor describes debates on feminism and feminist art in a number of symposia, art magazine forums, and conferences over the years. Initially, as one of the chapter titles states, "The –ism Did Not Dare Speak Its Name" refers to the many academic –isms theories such as modernism, postmodernism, feminism, and post-structuralism. But later in “Generation 2.5,” the focus is on a community of women artists who had ideals about the feminist art movement, and who followed their direction during difficult times. They challenged the notion of a canon in art production and the cult of celebrity in contemporary culture.

In part two, "Painting," Schor analyzes the production of art history from a feminist perspective. She concentrates on the works of Alica Neel, an abstract painter who created Two Girls. Spanish Harlem (1959), Dore Ashton (1952), and Self Portrait (1980). She also considers works by Lisa Yuskavage and Myron Stout.

In part three, "Trite Tropes," Schor presents her views on common themes in art that are popular among college students and practitioners of the avant garde academy. Schor claims that art education is inadequate or even non-existent. She also asserts that practical visual contact by students with the artists themselves would help to clarify some misconceptions on art. As the writer explains, “negative thinking may indicate more of a programmatic belief in modernist ideas of resistance via that methodology of negative dialectics than is actually in play.”

Schor would like to see art works discussed and analyzed even if that analysis may be negative from the point of view of the art market. She clearly believes in the power of art despite all odds. This hope can empower our thinking and our actions. Schor vigorously researched her topic and included visual images of paintings in her book, which contributed to the visual pleasure of her narrative. I found her essays engaging and appealing, mostly because of Schor’s anecdotes and the choice of her personal stories; however, I needed a few breaks in the reading of her theoretical background, as some of the essays require extreme concentration on the part of the reader.

Overall, Schor, who is also a painter and writer, creates a very witty, brave, carefully designed, in-depth study on the question of politics and aesthetics in the contemporary world.

Written by: Anna Hamling, May 15th 2010