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. 


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?


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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review8 min read
Re-Covered: A Blisteringly Honest Lesbian Suicide Memoir
In her monthly column Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes the out-of-print and forgotten books that shouldn’t be. Photo: Lucy Scholes In April 1962, after a day of sailing in Dorset, the fifty-year-old English writer and teacher Rosemary Manning got int
The Paris Review3 min read
Redux: In Memoriam, Susannah Hunnewell
Susannah Hunnewell in 2017, at the magazine’s Spring Revel. Courtesy of The Paris Review. The Paris Review is mourning the loss of our publisher and friend, Susannah Hunnewell. Over the course of her long affiliation with the magazine—she began as an
The Paris Review6 min read
Sorry, Peter Pan, We’re Over You
Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood. On the day before Halloween, my son’s teacher tells me, with the seriousness of a funeral director, that Noah has decided he does not want to be Peter Pan after all.