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Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over Audiobook, by Nell Painter Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Nell Painter Narrator: Nell Painter Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: June 2018 ISBN: 9781982518585
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Following her retirement from Princeton University, celebrated historian Dr. Nell Irvin Painter surprised everyone in her life by returning to school―in her sixties―to earn a BFA and MFA in painting. In Old in Art School, she travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, even as she comes to understand how they may be undervalued; and struggles with the unstable balance between the pursuit of art and the inevitable, sometimes painful demands of a life fully lived.

How are women and artists seen and judged by their age, looks, and race? What does it mean when someone says, “You will never be an artist?” Who defines what “an artist” is and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of beauty, value, and difference?

Old in Art School is Nell Painter’s ongoing exploration of those crucial questions. Bringing to bear incisive insights from two careers, Painter weaves a frank, funny, and often surprising tale of her move from academia to art.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Charts her exhilarating journey—from a BFA student at Rutgers to a master’s candidate at the Rhode Island School of Design.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “In this sweet, nuanced memoir, revered historian Painter recounts…how getting an up-close view to all things art changed her life.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Candid and cheerfully irreverent.”

    New York Times

  • “A smart, funny, and compelling case for going after your heart’s desires, no matter your age or what your critics say.”


  • “Historian Nell Painter…bring[s] her fierce intelligence to questions not just of age but also race and what it means to be an artist.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Her memoir…is many things: an appraisal of artists living and dead, a hymn to her home state of New Jersey, a meditation on her parents’ deaths, a reflection on the travails of leading a scholarly association. It’s also a sharp critique of the teaching methods and social environment in MFA programs.”

    Chronicle of Higher Education

  • “Painter is well-equipped to dissect the various forms of discrimination she faces in these programs. And she does it all with a sense of humor, honoring, above all else, creativity, and openness.”

    Literary Hub

  • “Witty and perceptive…A courageous, intellectually stimulating, and wholly entertaining story of one woman reconciling two worlds and being open to the possibilities and changes life offers.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “With honest and elegant prose…her narrative weaves expertly among her art school experience, family upbringing, the loss of her mother, caring for her father at a distance, and art itself…as well as the potentially damaging subculture of art school.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “The author offers perceptive insights about the meaning of art: the difference between thinking like a historian and an artist; the ‘contented concentration’ she feels when making art; and the works of many black artists. A spirited chronicle of transformation and personal triumph.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “A cup of courage for everyone who wants to change their lives. This is not a story about starting over; it’s about continuing on the journey.”

    Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

  • “Reading Nell Painter’s Old in Art School gave me immense pleasure. Memoirs by black women artists are extremely rare, and this one is so beautifully written, so perfectly formed in terms of its storytelling trajectory, with so many delectable details about art techniques and subject matter, the relationship of the work to her previous projects as a celebrated historian, and her life struggles as the daughter of once-perfect parents, now aged and with health difficulties. Old in Art School seems both definitive and unforgettable. The idea that this brilliant woman would move from a field in which her accomplishments are regarded as superlative to one in which she is constantly plagued by self-doubt and the shortcomings of her ‘twentieth-century eyes’ alone makes it worth the price of admission.”

    Michele Wallace, author of Dark Designs and Visual Culture

  • “One of our most distinguished scholars of race and racism has written an incisive, surprising, eloquent, and often wry account of what it means to go back to school at sixty-four, the age at which most academics contemplate retiring from it. Along the way, Nell Painter helps us to see the world as art, art as the world, and to understand arduous, creative self-transformation as toil worth the trouble. Old in Art School is as edgy as a contemporary work of art: bold in form, assured in line and shape, unflinching in its textured analysis of the ways race, gender, and age color how we perceive the world and how the world perceives us.”

    Cathy N. Davidson, author of The New Education

  • A Library Journal Editor’s Pick for Spring
  • An O Magazine Pick of Best Books for Summer Reading
  • A Literary Hub Pick for June
  • A New York Times Pick of New and Noteworthy
  • A Pick of 22 Top Books for June
  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week
  • A BookPage Top Pick of the Month
  • An Entertainment Weekly Pick of the Month
  • A Parade Magazine Pick of the Summer

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About the Author

Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. She is currently the Edwards Professor of American History, emerita, at Princeton University.