A Memoir of Creativity chronicles one woman’s life journey as she derives a theory, revealing meaning in abstract painting, from varied personal and professional experiences, and tells how she locates this theory within a broader social context.
In 1966, Piri Halasz became the first woman within living memory to write a cover story for Time (and not just any cover story, either: the notorious one on “Swinging London”). With wit and wisdom, she provides a glimpse into her “red-diaper” childhood, as well as reporting on her climb at Time from research to the writing staff. Vividly, she describes her controversial career as a female journalist during the sixties, offering an inside view of newsweekly rivalries during that tempestuous decade. Halasz then moves on to her initiation into the art world, her lively interaction with some of its most distinguished denizens and her immersion in graduate school. She concludes with what she has learned about art, art history, and history itself since the early eighties, applying that knowledge to better understand the twenty-first century. Through sharing her life story, Halasz encourages others to remain open to new experiences, to try different ways of seeing, and to use creativity to tackle hurdles.
No way can I be classed as a celebrity. Maybe I’m not completely unknown within that curious little subcommunity in American society that we call “the art world,” but my fifteen minutes of fame in the larger society (national and international) came again in the Ancient World of 1966, when Time, the weekly newsmagazine, ran a picture of me up front. I’d written a cover story for it on “Swinging London.” The story was controversial then, and has survived surprisingly well, but that’s still not why I wrote this book. So—what is? Those who must have categories might want to call this an “issue memoir.” After the London cover, I was assigned in 1967 to write Time’s Art page, and after doing this for thirty months, I cared more about art than I did about Time. Particularly, I cared about the arcane subject of abstract painting, and an art critic named Clement Greenberg, whose taste in abstract painting of the ’60s was more arcane to many than abstract painting itself. I thereupon quit Time in 1969 and eventually went back to graduate school, taking my PhD in art history from Columbia University in 1982. One year later, I developed a radical theory that finds meaning and subject matter in abstract painting, and introduced it in an article in Arts Magazine in 1983. I wrote this book because I want the theory to become more widely accepted, in hopes of making both abstract painting in general, and Greenberg’s kind of abstract painting in particular, more broadly accessible, but I’ve wound up presenting my ideas very differently from the way I originally expected. I had envisaged an art-historical tract dealing exclusively with my theory. This instead is a three-part narrative telling how I developed it from varied personal and professional experience, and how I fit it into a broader political and cultural context.
Manhattanite Piri Halasz majored in English at Barnard and earned a PhD in art history from Columbia. In between, she worked at Time for thirteen years, and has since taught and published over two hundred freelance hard-copy articles. Her webzine From the Mayor’s Doorstep is at http://piri.home.mindspring.com. She enjoys theater, charades, and bridge.