Art and Risk


As we have discussed in class, the art in this novel is influenced, driven, and generated by speed, loss, and risk.  These artists adhere to the Futurist tenant that “beauty exists only in struggle,” indicating that something must be lost or fought in order to attain something meaningful.  (As a side note, I think this is the reason why Reno was not immensely proud of her own land speed accomplishment: she felt as though she did not earn it because she gave up nothing for it.)  Good art is not a passive representation of life, but rather it is a direct interaction with life.  The other artists at the dinner party do not adhere to this philosophy in the same way Reno does, but together they demonstrate the desperation of art.  John Dogg is a prime example: he spends the evening pestering Helen Hellenberger to look at his work, “As if that were the main stumbling block, and not the problem of making art, the problem of believing in it” (156).  He is a humorous and exaggerated character, but his purpose in the novel is not so light-hearted.  There must be a balance between creating art the artist thinks is good, and creating art that others will support.  This leads to the problem of having to sell art to people, to take on the role of salesperson (though perhaps with more subtlety than John Dogg) in order to earn anything from what is created.  Reno considers this, saying, “And I was safe in another essential way: I had not put myself out there yet.  I could delay it until I knew for certain that what I was doing was good.  Until I knew I was doing the right thing” (154).  This struck me.  Her opinion of art is that something must be risked, and yet she will not reveal her work until she is sure there will not be much risk (or is delaying putting her work out there for fear of that risk).  This is also influenced by her belief that her work is not meeting her own standards, but I still find her decision to cling to safety to be striking.  There is a struggle between striving for authenticity and ensuring, at least on a small scale, some popularity.  This secondary goal of popularity may, as it does for John Dogg, ultimately undermine the work itself, which may not be a risk Reno is willing to take.


2 comments on “Art and Risk

  1. chgriffeth says:

    Reno’s adherence to the idea that art made without risk is not art is one of the most illustrative qualities of her character as an artist. I like that you brought up that, despite her need for risk in order to see herself as an accomplished artist, she has yet to show her work to the artistic community. While I agree that this might be in part due to her paradoxical fear of that risk, I can also see it as justified, as none of the artistic works she’s said to have made involve what she seems to define as risk. I do think that, had she not chosen to restore the bike, she would have considered it a work of art in its own right, embodying the intersection of risk and speed in a way that would be hard to do across any other artistic medium. Perhaps that’s where the idea of “doing the right thing” becomes relevant; I imagine that it would be difficult to capture that intersection in any other way, and, in that sense, she may regret passing up the opportunity to immortalize the crash and the experience as a work of art.

  2. jlabrecque14 says:

    I like that you brought up this paradoxical behavior from Reno, as I’ve found that her character seemed to be becoming more dubious and confused to me as I read chapters 8-10. I’ve found her to be somewhat empty to begin with, like a straightman in a comedy, where she reflects on other characters, but we don’t see much of how the characters reflect on her. We know she values risk and speed, has some deep thoughts about women in time and being trapped, and is tied to Sandro in a way that makes her almost debilitated (as evidenced by her ignorance of his potentially inevitable cheating and her constant reminding of the reader that she didn’t know things would turn out the way they did “back then”). But other characters seem to pass her over–with the possible exception of Giddle, who doesn’t seem to be paying her that much attention anyway.
    I see her statement as a contradiction that allows us to think more critically about her views on art. She is driven by the idea of risk, speed, and doing something truly original and “good”, but is afraid that the art community (which we get to see her interact with at the Kastle dinner party) will not like her work, and is surprisingly concerned about her work being popular. I was really shocked that she barely spoke at the party, but that her narration of the scene was full and intense. I loved that scene, as its description and funny anecdotes were some of the best writing in the book, in my opinion. But Reno barely plays a role. In reading your post, Bailey, and considering that art-scene dinner, I realized that Reno’s self-descriptions have been vague at best and now, with the complicated settings she’s been thrown into, we seem to have even less to go on, as she barely participates in them and doesn’t seem to give us her interpretation of them, either. She says nothing about Stanley’s monologues. We get an idea of her sense of women and their interaction with feminism and power in her descriptions of the powerful characters Gloria and Helen, but Reno herself is dismissed in the narration, an afterthought to the women, and a quiet onlooker to Sandro. If this is intentional on Kushner’s part, I do hope we get a more revealing look at Reno soon, as I feel like I know Giddle better than Reno, and that’s saying something.

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