A Memoir of Creativity: abstract painting, politics & the media, 1956-2008

Winner of an "IPPY" Gold Medal in the 2010 Independent Publisher Book Awards (category: Writing/​Publishing)

Most scholarly review: by Ann Lee Morgan, in January 2011 issue of The Independent Scholar, reprinted below (following jacket statement by Leigh Winser). Morgan is the author of Arthur Dove: Life & Work, with a Catalogue Raisonné (1984), and The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists (2007). She is currently working on a historical dictionary of contemporary art.

Keith Miller, TLS (London Times Literary Supplement), 23 October 2009 (Excerpt)

“This self-published memoir....contains about three potentially interesting shorter narratives....As a young reporter on Time, [Halasz] sent dispatches home from Swinging London in the mid-60s. As an art historian, critic and blogger, she has formulated and promoted a distinctive theory of ‘multireferentiality’....the book contains strong insights and, in places, good writing....Halasz’s journalistic skills....stand out.”

Hertha Schulze, Barnard College (Amazon Reader’s Review)

“This book serves as a detailed historical document in a number of ways--as a frank portrait of a career woman in a pre-feminist era, an equally tough-minded account of the politics surrounding the publication of a major magazine, and an insider's chronicle of the forces and personalities that shaped abstract expressionism. Less obvious, yet perhaps ultimately equally valuable, is the author's method of illuminating the cultural transmission of an idea. Drawing on her experience as a researcher and editor at Time and her knowledge of the world of galleries and museums, Halasz traces the avenues through which abstract art engaged the public in both publications and presentations. Her analysis derives its subtlety from her intimate awareness of media manipulation (not simply the facts of publication but also the mode and placement of material within that milieu) as well as the politics of public access (through the actions of gate-keepers like curators and critics). She recounts the steps required to develop and consolidate her intellectual tools at length, but the diligent reader will be rewarded with insight into a mode of unlocking the history of ideas that has potential applications in many other fields of interest.”

Walter Darby Bannard, artist & art critic (Amazon Reader’s Review)

“This is a memoir of a woman's life in the creative literary artistic and literary circles in New York from the Swinging Sixties to the present. The writing is animated and very personal and self-reflective, particularly in the earlier parts, where she just comes right out and says what she is seeing and feeling, giving us a refreshingly open and impartial 'you were there.'

"To me the most interesting parts of the book are those about the art world. One person who threads all through the later narrative is Clement Greenberg. She was very close to him, and though not uncritical, she gives us a more intimate, more insightful and much truer picture of this great and complicated art critic than all three of the recent books on him put together. She also espouses - and charts her own evolution of - a non-establishment point of view about contemporary art which is far more sophisticated and grounded in actual worth than that of most art writers.

"Things bog down a bit in later chapters when she gets into theory and politics but I know of nothing else that gives a better 'feel' of what it was like to be part of the art world whirlwind of the last four decades in New York.”

Leigh Winser, Seton Hall University (jacket testimonial)

“A fascinating, very personal account of the author’s wide-ranging experience in journalism, art criticism, politics and, not least of all, self-examination. Early on A Memoir takes us deep inside New York’s publishing world which Halasz recreates for us with authority and detail. Her discussion of the chain of command, the levels of creative activity, and the interplay of personal and professional motives at Time may very well become a classic essay on how a great magazine is produced. Equally impressive is the author’s quest to define and clarify abstract expressionism amidst the many important movements in modern art. A Memoir especially comes to life when Halasz recounts her dealings with the leading artists and art critics of her time. At once informative, witty, outrageously honest and distinguished by just the right amount of irony, this book should be of interest to many readers.”

Ann Lee Morgan, The Independent Scholar (quarterly published by the National Coalition of Independent Scholars), January 2011 (24:1)

"Perhaps a little too academic to interest a trade publisher, yet perhaps a little broadly conceived to attract an academic house, art historian Piri Halasz's memoir of her adult life ranges across journalism, the history of art during the past century, and American politics, along with ruminations on her own subjectivity. In other words, it might be said to reflect the mind of an independent scholar vigorously engaged on multiple levels with her social and cultural milieu. She herself calls the book 'a study in creativity' (p. 2). As so it is that, as well, for the thought process that unifies her disparate subjects exemplifies a mode of problem-solving sitsed in the Freudian unconscious (p. 13)

"An introductory chapter outlines her family background, early years, and education, through earning a B.A. in English at Barnard in 1956. From college, she went straight to Time magazine. The first of three main sections of the book gives a vivid, inside picture of Henry Luce's influential newsmagazine in its heyday. Starting on the 'clip desk' (where she cut stories from newspapers for writers' use), in thirteen years there Halasz worked her way through successive positions as a researcher and writer in a highly competitive environment. (Among the first women elevated to writer, she ranked also as the first within 'living memory' (p. 2)to produce a cover story--the notable 1966 account of 'Swinging London'--which, in turn, led to a commission for A Swinger's Guide to London,, published the following year.) Finally, she became Time's art critic, but this assignment eventually undid her career in journalism, as she came to realize that art trumped magazine writing among her interests.

"In the book's second main section, the author returns to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in art history at Columbia in 1982. Drawn particularly to modern and contemporary art, she details her education in this specialty. Just as she had revealed the workings of Time for outsiders to the profession, in describing her own art education, she leads the non-specialist through important issues in modern and contemporary art. Her mentors include several well-known Columbia professors, but more importantly the prominent art critic Clement Greenberg, with whom she maintained a longtime intermittent relationship. Her particular quest in this period focuses on understanding the meaning of abstract art. In 1983, her thoughts coalesce into a 'multireferential' theory of abstraction. Drawing again upon her familiarity with Freudian thought, she locates the power of abstract art in its ability to synthesize disparate and sometimes even contradictory visual images, in much the same way that the unconscious works in formulating dreams.

"In the final section, recounting endeavors during the years since 2001, she turns her attention to the sociopolitical environment of our times. As she describes how it has affected the creation and reception of art, we see her mind at work as she circles back to earlier decades, searching for deeper understanding of the links between art and its milieu. Later, she provides deft analyses of economic and class factors in the evolution of recent American political culture and voting trends. Halasz concludes with thoughts on what she sees as the country's political and esthetic rightward drift. A brief postscript talks to readers about enhancing their own creativity by remaining open to the world and to serendipitous occasions, by formulating problems in terms that may lead even beyond their own solutions to new and previously unrecognized paths, and by encouraging insights from the unconscious. In short, perhaps, by living as an independent scholar.

"A Memoir of Creativity travels many byways as Halasz proceeds through the years. Here and there, the reader finds sections that might constitute independent essays in themselves, as she returns to primary published and unpublished sources to research one or another inquiry. Her intense engagement with art continues in a blog--intended for a more specialized audience--that she has written for more than a decade. Titled 'From the Mayor's Doorstep' (because she lives near Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor's residence), this ambitious project, appearing six or seven times a year, chronicles the New York art scene of galleries and museums, while including also notes on shows she sees in travels beyond the city, as well as political observations."