Book Cover

Art for the Ladylike

An Autobiography through Other Lives

Whitney Otto

312 pp. 5.5 x 8.5

Pub Date:  March, 2021

Subjects: Creative Nonfiction

Series: 21st Century Essays

Imprint: Mad Creek

order Paperback$23.95 $19.16 Get 20% off and free US shipping   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5782-1
Order PDF ebook$23.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8100-0

“Seven Autobiographies and Memoirs That Remind Us of the Messiness of Memory”: A Literary Hub reading list from Whitney Otto

“It is not easy to be a woman who makes art, but reading about the lives of these female artists, one begins to feel like it is the only way to live.”—Sierra Bellows, American Scholar

“Whitney Otto merges biography and memoir to generate a poetic and contemplative account of the women artists who have influenced her. … Throughout the book, [she] further untangles the challenges at play between motherhood, domesticity and creativity. … At a time when many people’s career paths and ways of working are in flux, this book can provide solace that professional and private struggles are something all women can relate to.”—

“In this inviting blend of biography and memoir, novelist Otto (How to Make an American Quilt) examines her life in terms of the women artists who influenced her.…Otto provides a fascinating tour of art through the lens of her own experience. Creatives of all sorts will enjoy [her] wide-ranging insights.” —Publishers Weekly

“Whitney Otto has woven a work of breathtaking texture. Art for the Ladylike is a love letter to the resilience and beauty of women who deign to make art. This book brought me back to myself.” —Lidia Yuknavitch

“A fascinating and peripatetic memoir, Whitney Otto’s fearless, free-range narrative investigates parenting, class, sexuality, and worlds beyond. Startling, funny, and compassionate—reminiscent of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet—this is an invaluable guide to the life of the mind and the soul of an artist.” —Diana Abu-Jaber

“I loved this fascinating memoir of a life experienced through the understanding of art. It’s inventive, thoughtful, and deeply informed. Brava!” —Roxana Robinson

In Art for the Ladylike, Whitney Otto limns the lives of eight pioneering women photographers—Sally Mann, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Ruth Orkin, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller, Madame Yvonne, and Grete Stern—to in turn excavate her own writer’s life. The result is an affecting exploration of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an artist, and the perils and rewards of being both at once. In considering how feminism, career, and motherhood were entangled throughout her subjects’ lives as they tirelessly sought to render their visions and paved the way for others creating within the bounds of domesticity, Otto assesses her own struggles with balancing writing and the pulls of home life. Ultimately, she ponders the persistent question that artistic women face in a world that devalues women’s ambition: If what we love is what we are, how do those of us with multiple loves forge lives with room for everything?

Whitney Otto is the author of five novels, including the New York Times bestseller How to Make an American Quilt, which was later made into a movie of the same name, and Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and in several anthologies. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.


An Introduction in Three Parts and a Final Thought

Goodnight Kiss: Sally Mann

Inventing the Male Nude: Imogen Cunningham

The Woman with the Mink Sleeves: Judy Dater

Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone: Ruth Orkin

The Sentimental Problem of Tina Modotti: Tina Modotti

A War of My Own: Lee Miller

Be Original or Die!: Madame Yevonde

Psychoanalysis Will Help You: Grete Stern

Epilogue: Revisiting The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, Thoughts on Writing, and One Question


Related Titles: