How to be Both

There’s art–lots of art–in Ali Smith’s 2014 novel How to be Both.  The novel, itself, is a work of art:  it’s ambiguous, clever, funny, sad, truthful, and challenging.

Here are a few quotes from How to be Both to, possibly, entice you to read it:

     I think of all the sketches and dessins and paintings on panels and linens and crack-covered wall, all the colours and the willows and the hares and the goats and the sheep and the hoofs, all the eggs cracked open:  ash, bones, dust, gone, and hundreds and hundreds, no, thousands.
     Cause that’s all the life of a painter is, the seen and gone disappearing into the air, rain, seasons, years, the ravenous beaks of ravens.  All we are is eyes looking for the unbroken  or the edges where the broken bits might fit each other.


    But imagine if you made something and then you always had to be seen through what you’d made, as if the thing you’d made became you.


   Galleries are not much like life.  They are such clean places, generally.


   (Egg on poplar.  Like something made in a chic restaurant.  What would it taste like?  Think of all the paintings made with all the eggs laid all the hundreds of years ago and the blips of life that were the lives of the warmblooded chickens who laid them.)

Honor Clerk’s review in The Spectator is titled “Warm, funny, subtle, intelligent–and baffling.”  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Francesco del Cossa, about 1435/6 - about 1477/8 Saint Vincent Ferrer probably about 1473-5 Egg on poplar, 153.7 x 59.7 cm Bought, 1858 NG597

Francesco del Cossa, about 1435/6 – about 1477/8
Saint Vincent Ferrer
probably about 1473-5
Egg on poplar, 153.7 x 59.7 cm
Bought, 1858




4 thoughts on “How to be Both

  1. Diane McGifford

    I might be writing in the wrong box as I don’t quite get the “Respond to this post by replying above this line.” But I just wanted to say that I loved the book and the way the text is interlaces with art so that the normally still becomes action through the narrative. Lovely.


  2. Diane McGifford

    There was a German philosopher-art history kind of fellow, some centuries earlier and I can’t remember his name. Anyway he claimed iconic art–he cited, as an example, the Laocoon ( I have to check the spelling; I know there are umlauts over the o’s)–instantly tells a story so that it has a narrative element and proceeds in time. As well, since it is art it exists in space. Art that exists in time and space is both active and still. Think of T S Eliot in “Burnt Norton:” “At the still point of the turning world . . . there the dance is.” It getting all to heady for me and I shall now have a nap.



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