Mira Schor

05.09.10

Left: Cover of Mira Schor’s A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life (2010). Right: Mira Schor, Reader, 2009, ink and gesso on linen, 16 x 20”.


Recognized for her contributions to painting theory and to feminist art history, the painter and writer Mira Schor has a new book available from Duke University Press. Here she discusses A Decade of Negative Thinking and her new blog, A Year of Positive Thinking.

AM I A NEGATIVE THINKER, AS THE TITLE OF MY BOOK SUGGESTS? I don’t think so, although it may seem that way because I speak out when I suspect that other people are just drinking the Kool-Aid. It’s necessary to dig beneath press-release culture, and not just take the promotional sound bite as gospel and let it go viral into art discourse. So I decided to give myself the test or the experiment of A Year of Positive Thinking. There are so many things that I love in art, film, art history, and political history, which help me to be an artist; I really want to share that part of my experience.

I’ve been doing a lot on Facebook, posting links to things I think are beautiful, funny, moving, inspiring, while venting on various political issues that make me angry. The blog will be a battle between the two sides of my personality, maybe like Cassandra and Pollyanna. Cassandra tells truths no one wants to hear. But it’s good to keep in mind that Pollyanna actually does the same thing: She’s not at all the sweet, cloying kind of character we think of when we use the name in a disparaging way; instead she’s more like a realistic, grounded character in a Kurosawa movie, albeit via Disney—she confronts with a generous curiosity the repressed private griefs of the inhabitants of the little town she has come to live in, as an orphan.

My father, the artist Ilya Schor, died when I was eleven. The Archives of American Art asked my mother for his papers sometime in the 1960s, when I was a teenager. My father didn’t do that much writing, but they said they were interested in everything––the ephemera of his life, art supply bills, that kind of thing. I helped put some of the material in order. At that time they did microfiches. Later, I was an art history major in college and I studied with H. W. Janson for one semester, which was in some ways very tedious and in others very interesting and an honor. It also pretty much persuaded me not to pursue art history! One of the things it taught me is that classic art history is actually doing things like researching Donatello’s laundry list––you know, his receipts, where he lived when. I decided to study art in graduate school instead of pursuing art history.

I’ve been an inveterate self-documenter since I was a child. For example, I preserved carbon copies and early Xeroxes of all my letters from when I was a twenty-one-year-old grad student in the Feminist Art Program at CalArts and working on Womanhouse. I read them at the F-Word conference at CalArts in 1998, and I’ve included some of them in A Decade, in a chapter titled “Miss Elizabeth Bennett Goes to Feminist Boot Camp.” I’m kind of amazed at how articulate and outspoken I was as a twenty-one-year-old, and how much the character of my writing voice was already in place. It’s at times highly critical, but also passionate and politically engaged.

If I don’t paint over a period time, I start to go crazy. Painting is a primary language that I need to “speak” and “hear” in order to survive at a very deep level of my existence. I love the process of drawing and painting, and I love creating images, but I can’t imagine not writing––it would be like not thinking or speaking.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler