by Patricia Bosworth ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 14, 1984
Through some mysterious, unconscious force Diane was starting to create in her pictures a kind of art that would be both a release and a vindication of her life. . . ."" Limp generalizations like that abound through this biography by the author of Montgomery Clift--but Bosworth never really illuminates life/work connections here, never finds a forceful link between Arbus' melancholy, neurotic personality and her arresting photos of the grotesque and perverse. The first third of the book is particularly weak: Diane is sketched in as a N.Y. Jewish princess, inheriting the Nemerov family melancholia; there's fleeting reference to her parents' remoteness, her father's philandering; but no strong psychological profile emerges--while the text is swamped by under-edited, self-involved interview quotes from Arbus' friends and siblings. (The book sometimes seems to be a biography of Arbus' lover Alex Eliot, a garrulous source--in contrast to husband Allan Arbus, who declined to be interviewed.) At 18 would-be artist Diane married teenage sweetheart Allan, a would-be actor; she tried ""to play the 1940s housewife to perfection,"" with two daughters; she and Allan gave up their respective dreams, teaming up as successful fashion photographers. But by the mid-1950s the marriage was crumbling. Diane was fed up with styling (""There was so little time to dream""), and she broke free into full-time serious photography--studying with Lisette Model. And now Diane, who ""had always longed to scrutinize the perverse, the alienated, the extreme--ever since her mother forbade her to stare at their nutty relative,"" indulged her fascination with freaks; shy but ""very, very brave,"" she met them, went home with them, photographed them. Meanwhile, she also indulged (with little joy, it seems) bisexual urges toward casual, anonymous sex (""in the dark she could touch a stranger and be momentarily comforted""). So perhaps her own sexual conflict was reflected in her obsession with the odd. the ambiguous. Ultimately, however, despite references to her ""genius eye"" and her secret ""intense inner life,"" Arbus remains an enigma in this depressing, uncentered chronicle--right up to her 1971 suicide. And though some readers will be satisfied by the art/fashion-world detail here, most will find this disappointing--as both life-history and creative biography.
Pub Date: June 14, 1984
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984
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