The Artist by Patricia Highsmith, 1975
The magic trick:
Placing your sympathies on both sides of the debate, resulting in feelings of nihilism for the reader by the end
It is a bit cruel to post this story on New Year’s Eve – in theory, a celebratory occasion. This story is not celebratory. It’s culled from Highsmith’s remarkable collection, Little Tales Of Misogyny. The title isn’t ironic, by the way.
In this story – which, we should note, does feature a pivotal moment on New Year’s Eve – we have a husband who is disgusted by his wife’s artistic pursuits. They are keeping her from her womanly duties at home. So, if you’re like most readers, this is an easy request from the author to sympathize with Jane, the artist-wife. Right? Of course. It’s simple. But this being Patricia Highsmith, it’s not so simple. The husband voices his judgments that this art school is a sad state of affairs; a bunch of hacks encouraging a bunch of no-talent no ones to reach for talents they don’t have. Which, if you’re like many readers, is probably in line with how you’ve felt about local art collectives you’ve come across in your life. So, what we end up with is a story that makes you feel cynical and depressed about everyone. Happy New Year! And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.
Bob came to hate The School of Arts. He had seen it a few times, when he had gone to fetch Jane at 11 p.m. or so. (The neighborhood was too dangerous to walk in.) It seemed to Bob that the students were all a lot of misguided hopefuls, and the teachers a lot of mediocrities. It seemed a madhouse of misplaced effort. And how many homes, children and husbands were being troubled now, because the women of the households – the students were mainly women – were not at home performing a few essential tasks?
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