Siri Hustvedt’ “The Blazing world”: a generous art novel dedicated to masks and undervalued artists

Stefano Pirovano

To be added to the list of 25 art novels that we published a few months ago in response to the current lack of relevant critic writings, “The Blazing world” by Siri Hustvedt seems to be also the perfect introduction for the dialogue with the leading contemporary female art collector Valeria Napoleone that we are going to publish in the next days. In fact, the Hustvedt’ second novel based on characters involved in the art system (the first is “What I loved”) is not just a statement against the discrimination of female artists. It also shows a disquieting side of the system most of the times forcing true talents to negotiate their success with forces totally extraneous to the realm of the artwork.

In a nutshell, the book is about fictional character Harriet Burden, artist and wife of a powerful and rich New York art dealer. She has large financial means and the resulting freedom – creative and economic – to make the most out of her artistic talent. Apparently Burden has everything she could have ever dreamed of, yet there is a problem: she feels indeed a victim of cultural misogyny and she ascribes the little recognition she has received from the New York art establishment to its proven sexism. So, in Hustvedt’ words, “she decides to make “an experiment” by using three living men as her masks to show and make her own artworks finally successful.

The masks – Hustvedt uses 20 distinct voices in the book – turn out to be a tool which could protect, fake, or at the same time reveal the true of any specific role. Hence, by the end of the book, the reader will find himself wondering about a question that concerns the art world since ever, and that is basically what the novel is about: how do we see reality? “We see what we expect to see” Hustvedt answers, and turns a scientific questionable fact as perception into the paradigmatic experience of a female, undervalued genius.

November 6, 2018