Monday, January 28, 2013

Nell Irvin Painter: Artist

Nell Irvin Painter, the award-winning historian of books about African- American history, has become, um, a painter. 

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has a nice piece (HT: Tim Lacy on Facebook) about Painter's transition from books to canvases and lecture halls to art studios.  She seems to have no interest in returning to the field of history and has even given away all of the books in her library.  "She says she'll never write another word of history."

Here is a taste:

Few historians retire. Whether or not they continue to teach, some famous historians, like the late John Hope Franklin and Gerda Lerner, keep writing until they can't write anymore. Bernard Bailyn, who is 90, recently published a 600-page book about the chaotic establishment of the Jamestown settlement in the early 17th century.

If you suggest, as some have, that Ms. Painter's decision to abandon history writing has something to do with the famously scathing review by the distinguished historian Eric Foner of her last book, The History of White People (W.W. Norton, 2010), she will quickly correct you. 

Mr. Foner said that the book failed to do the historical work that its title anticipated, that Ms. Painter's "selective" account of 2,000 years of history oversimplified both the progressive activism of many white people and two generations of previous historical work on whiteness as a set of constantly changing ideas and insidious social practices. 

Ms. Painter shrugs off the review and says her decision to close the door on history scholarship has to do with looking forward, not back.

Read the rest here.