The Stylists: Style as Character, Style as Politics, Style as Style

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

—Oscar Wilde

Style is at once historical and speculative, associative and specific. By its very nature it can be voraciously temporal and determinedly static. Style is surface (perhaps). And its surfaces can indicate struggle or surfeit. Even a lack of style is style. As Joan Didion, the California high priestess of the stylistic essay, famously said, echoing others: “Style is character.” It evolves from a constellation of personal choices in tone, temperature, aesthetics, moralities, mannerisms, and voice that cohere, become constellate, into a singularly recognizable form. It determines each artist’s uniqueness, their strength, and their success, yet it remains infinitely difficult to discuss. Thus in this we will attempt to address that which often goes unaddressed or unspoken in artistic practice: style. In classes devoted to literary, artistic, and cinematic style, as well as to the maker as model, we will explore how personal idioms are developed, articulated, and conveyed maturely, as well as how they impact, supplement, or define one’s creative production and reception. Conversely, we will also trace how critical styles can be misrepresented or mistranslated or sublimated by the larger culture, where surfaces are coveted, cultivated, and disseminated. Historically, we will locate when the definition of style moved from artistic movement to personal expression. Finally, through the artists, writers, filmmakers, and other artistic practitioners that we look at, we will attempt to limn just how style reveals to the spectator the personal politics, ethics, and aesthetics of the artist herself.

Those artists, writers, filmmakers, and other hybrids we might look at, and whose works we will possibly touch on or study, include Renata Adler, Giorgio Agamben, Chantal Akerman, Roland Barthes, Lee Bontecou, Jorge Luis Borges, Jane Bowles, Anne Carson, Hélène Cixous, Das Institute, Lydia Davis, Joan Didion, Marguerite Duras, VALIE EXPORT, Harun Farocki, Benjamin Franklin, Jean-Luc Godard, Camille Henrot, Emmanuel Hocquard, bell hooks, Robert Irwin, Rashid Johnson, Wayne Koestenbaum, Harmony Korine, Rosalind Krauss, Emma Kunz, Simone Leigh, Lee Lozano, Haruki Murakami, Louise Nevelson, Paulina Olowska, Carol Rama, Lisa Robertson, Pamela Rosenkranz, W. G. Sebald, Sylvia Sleigh, Susan Sontag, Keiichi Tanaami, Rosemarie Trockel, Kelley Walker, Jennifer West, Oscar Wilde, Joy Williams, and Akram Zaatari. Also: Katherine Anne Porter, who once noted (acidly, if pre-feminism-ly): “I don't believe in style. The style is you […] Style is the man. Aristotle said it first, as far as I know, and everybody has said it since, because it is one of those unarguable truths. You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.”

*There is also the possibility of a small series of guest lectures and workshops from a few of the notables above.