This article examines the uses of ekphrasis in recent popular novels, situated in a cultural economy in which there is great public interest in art objects and the world of artists, dealers, and collectors. Discussing novels by Siri Hustvedt, Thomas van Essen, Ali Smith, and Donna Tartt and casting side-glances at several others, it identifies some common strategies for presenting the ekphrastic object. These novels typically present the artwork through the subjective and highly affective gaze of a fictional character; they problematize the status and role of the artist, particularly in terms of gender; they posit that art objects trigger unquenchable desire; and—most significantly—they attribute transformative power to such objects. By affirming the power of art images to improve empathy and relationality in their privileged viewers, the novels reauratize art, supplementing traditional ideas of sublimity and epistemological benefit with an ethical effect.
Ekphrasis in Recent Popular Novels: Reaffirming the Power of Art Images
Renate Brosch holds the chair of English literature at the Universität Stuttgart. She has published books on Henry James (2000) and on short story theory, Short Story: Textsorte und Leseerfahrung (2007). Two of her edited collections are concerned with cultural mobility and Australian visual culture respectively (2011 and 2014). Her research also addresses cognitive narratology and reader response, Anglistik: Focus on Reception and Reader Response (2013). She has a long-standing interest and publication history in text-image relations, literary visuality, and visualization.
Renate Brosch; Ekphrasis in Recent Popular Novels: Reaffirming the Power of Art Images. Poetics Today 1 June 2018; 39 (2): 403–423. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-4324529
Download citation file: