The Paris Review

A Conversation Between Nell Painter and Lynne Tillman

Left: photo by John Emerson; Right: photo by Craig Mod

Lynne Tillman and Nell Painter can’t remember how they first met. Tillman believes they were introduced at a history conference, while Painter is sure that their first encounter was here, at the Paris Review offices, upon the conduction of this interview. In any case, last spring they convened—either again or for the first time—to discuss their respective new books. Men and Apparitions, Tillman’s sixth novel, tells the story of Zeke, a thirty-eight-year-old cultural anthropologist who belongs to a generation of “new men” and soon becomes the subject of his own research. Old in Art School, Painter’s eighth book of non-fiction, chronicles her decision to leave the world of academic research in pursuit of a B.A. and M.F.A. in visual art. Together they discussed professionalism, the art market, and the personal self-fashioning of writers. 

TILLMAN

I’m interested in your decision to become a professional artist, and to go to art school after a distinguished career in history. After many years of teaching, you were placed in the position of being a student. Because I’ve taught in M.F.A. programs, I’ve been around older students, and I’ve seen how often they feel reduced. Why didn’t you just paint, and call yourself an artist?

PAINTER

Well, I tried that, but I knew that my skills were old. I had twentieth-century skills. I took a pastels class with a very nice man at the Newark Museum, and I hated it. He instructed me to paint lemons so that I could “feel” them, which I had no interest in. It wasn’t rigorous enough.

If Princeton’s visual arts program had been a degree

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