Appel à publication : « Figures of the Artist. The Image of the Artist in the Forms of Literary Writing », Elephant & Castle, n°25 (Bergame, 2021)

Art: a coven of freaks”: this is how Emanuele Trevi gives expression (Sogni e favole, 2019), with icastic memorability, to one, perhaps the most widespread, commonplace on the artist’s profile. Since when Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz (in Legend, Myth and Magic in the Image of the Artist, 1934) highlighted the recurrent topoi in the narration of life and the skills of arts men from the Middle Ages to the contemporary age, it is clear that the relevance of this character in the modern imagination is linked to the stratification of meanings and prejudices that over the centuries have been deposited onto his figure. An enigmatic individual, endowed with nearly shamanic faculties (what he represents seems to come to life, while he manages to give shape to what it does not have any), or a cunning forger, who aims to colonize the popular imaginary – and profit from it – thanks to cheap ‘provocations’ (“It applies to me the rule of minimum effort, maximum result”, said Damien Hirst), the artist seems destined to be the object of polarized opinions, reflecting a substantial difficulty in contemporary culture to understand his professional status (since he does not have one), his social role (if he has one) and his expressive practice (since each artist seems to follow his or her own, inimitable path). A contradictory consideration, which does not fail to have repercussions on – or constitute an effect of – a parallel double vulgata on art, and in particular on contemporary art, which still is an instrument of social and spiritual ‘distinction’, but, at the same time, it is often branded as a self-referential staging, an expression of an elitist and narcissistic closed circuit (what Nathalie Heinich called L’élite artiste, 2005). As Mauro Covacich effectively summarized in a book with the emblematic title L’arte contemporanea spiegata a tuo marito (2011): “Contemporary art is wrapped in a contradiction that is more and more inextricable every day: on the one hand it seems to be the talk of the town, on the other it hardly speaks to anyone”.

Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of these premises, the artist’s elusive status has not inhibited, but on the contrary has stimulated the collective imagination, and in particular the literary imagination, which in contemporary times has made him a real ‘character’. If Herbert Marcuse (1922) acknowledged in the age of Sturm und Drang the origin of a genre, the ‘artist’s novel’, which reveals itself as the symbolic form of a culture, the twentieth century rooted the artist at the core of the literary imaginary: his figure is now asked either to take on the weight of a relationship with a problematic reality (from Alberto Moravia’s La noia to Michel Houellebecq’s La carte et le territoire), or to give representation to the shared need to escape or transfigure the triviality of ordinary experience (the artist as a solitary genius, from James Joyce’s Dedalus onwards), or still to embody in an unpacified way the struggle against gender stereotypes (from Anna Banti’s Artemisia to Melania Mazzucco’s L’architettrice). In terms of narrative scripts, the novel declines the different aspects of the ‘legend of the artist’, shows the practices of the ‘artist’s life’, reconstructs environments, relationships and behaviours that help giving concrete form to the image of this character, explaining them by the ‘regimes’ theorized by the sociology of art and useful to recognize the evolution of his social figure over time (the ‘artisan regime’, the ‘vocational’ or even ‘the regime of singularity’; Heinich 2001).

Nevertheless, not only the novels centred on the artist-character contribute from time to time to consolidate conventional stereotypes or to define new myths. It is often the artists themselves who, with their writings, more or less consciously contribute to stiffen the repertoire of characters that can be helpful in defining their status as ‘eccentric-integrated’ in the social system (as Enrico Castelnuovo wrote, the artist is “the only type of deviant behaviour that is somehow celebrated”). From artists’ books to authorized biographies, and even more so in autobiographies and private documents (such as letters or work notes), writing gives shape to a self-presentation that is often a compromise between the rhetoric of authenticity and the need to strategically build the artist’s placement in the artistic field, confirming or dodging synthetic but effective labels on self-communication (just think of the insistence with which, in his Autocurriculum, Emilio Isgrò rejects the attribute of ‘artist’ in favour of that of ‘poet’).

Through different forms of writing, which respond to different genre codes, we define an artist’s imaginary that has also considerable repercussions on the collective perception of the figure of the artist. In order to be studied and understood, this complex imaginary requires analytical tools ranging from narratology to philology, from sociology of art to visual studies, passing through thematic criticism and reception theory.

Starting from these considerations, issue 25 of Elephant & Castle, titled Figures of the Artist: The Image of the Artist in the Forms of Literary Writing is aimed at the study of the forms of representation and self-representation of the artist in literary writing, with particular attention to the contemporary Italian context (1861-2020), but without excluding appropriate and motivated encroachments in other periods and linguistic areas. To this end, interested scholars are invited to send contributions on the following research themes:

– rhetorics of the representation of the artist in the different genres of literary writing (novel, short story, diary, autobiography, epistolary, artist’s books…) and their historical evolution;
– places, relationships, working practices: the characters of the ‘artist’s life’ in the different forms of literary writing;
– artist’s novel as a symbolic form of contemporary culture;
– artist’s public and private writings as material for a sociological study of the artist’s social status;
– private writings of artists as places of construction, authentic or strategic, of their public identity.

Proposals must be sent to the addresses and no later than January 8, 2021 and must contain a short abstract of the contribution (max 3000 characters) and a short biographical note.

Contributions may be in Italian, English, and French.

The communication of the selected proposals will take place by the end of January and the complete contributions, accompanied by images and conforming to the editorial standards of the journal, must be delivered by April 12, 2021.


Bibliografia di riferimento | Bibliography

H. S. Becker, I mondi dell’arte, il Mulino, Bologna 2012.
P. Bourdieu, Le regole dell’arte. Genesi e struttura del campo letterario (1992), il Saggiatore, Milano 2005.
M. Ciccuto, L’immagine del testo. Episodi di cultura figurativa nella letteratura italiana, Bonacci, Roma 1990.
M. Cometa, La scrittura delle immagini. Letteratura e cultura visuale, Cortina, Milano 2012.
M. Covacich, L’arte contemporanea spiegata a tuo marito, Laterza, Roma-Bari 2011.
N. Heinich, La sociologia dell’arte (2001), il Mulino, Bologna 2004.
E. Kris, O. Kurz, La leggenda dell’artista. Un saggio storico (1934), Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1989.
G. Maffei (a cura di), Il libro d’artista, Milano, Edizione Sylvestre Bonnard, 2003.
M. C. Paillard (a cura di), Le roman du peintre, Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand 2008.
A. Pinotti, A. Somaini, Cultura visuale. Immagini sguardi media dispositivi, Einaudi, Torino 2016.
R. Pinto, Artisti di carta. Territori di confine tra arte e letteratura, postmedia books, Milano 2016.
J. Starobinski, Portrait de l’artiste en saltimbanque, Skira, Geneve 1970; trad. ita. Ritratto dell’artista da saltimbanco, Abscondita, Milano 2018.
V. Stoichita, Effetto Sherlock. Storia dello sguardo da Manet a Hitchcock, Il Saggiatore, Milano 2017.
E. Villari, P. Pepe (a cura di), Il ritratto dell’artista nel romanzo tra ‘700 e ‘900, Bulzoni Editore, Roma 2002.

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