In her funny, idiosyncratic, and propulsive new novel, Art Is Everything, Yxta Maya Murray offers us a portrait of a Chicana artist as a woman on the margins. L.A. native Amanda Ruiz is a successful performance artist who is madly in love with her girlfriend, a wealthy and pragmatic actuary named Xōchitl. Everything seems under control: Amanda’s grumpy father is living peacefully in Koreatown; Amanda is about to enjoy a residency at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and, once she gets her NEA, she’s going to film a groundbreaking autocritical documentary in Mexico.
But then everything starts to fall apart when Xōchitl’s biological clock begins beeping, Amanda’s father dies, and she endures a sexual assault. What happens to an artist when her emotional support vanishes along with her feelings of safety and her finances? Written as a series of web posts, Instagram essays, Snapchat freakouts, rejected Yelp reviews, Facebook screeds, and SmugMug streams-of-consciousness that merge volcanic confession with eagle-eyed art criticism, Art Is Everything shows us the painful but joyous development of a mid-career artist whose world implodes just as she has a breakthrough.
2. A Struggle That Probably Won’t Pay Off In The End
3. Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Insisted On Taking This Trip
4. Hey Can I Come Back Home Now
5. I Didn’t See That One Coming
6. Weird Social Media Stuff You Do When Your Dad Dies
7. This New Job Isn’t That Great
8. I’m Not Sure If I Should Have Pressed Send
9. Is This Healing Me or is It Propaganda
10. I Am Trying To Care About This But It’s Not Really Working
12. It’s Not Stalking, It’s Just Finding Somebody’s Number and Calling Them on the Phone
13. Crucifixion and Happiness
14. Authenticity Culture is Dumb
15. The Science of Invisibility
16. Private Language
17. Hope In a Phone
18. It’s Fine to Be Edited by Your Gallerist
19. Maybe This Will Make Me Some Money
20. Crushing It
21. I Don’t Think I’m Handling This Very Well
22. The Disease of the Learned
23. This is Bad
24. The Sucking One
25. Yeah Getting a Job is Probably a Good Idea
26. Björk’s Kids Seem OK
27. The Cry It Out Method
28. Own Your Emotion
29. Make Something Out of It
30. Arte Povera
List of Illustrations
“In Amanda Ruiz, Yxta Maya Murray has created a character that is fresh and sassy and unlike any I’ve encountered in recent fiction. Through inventive and stylized prose rife with wit and intelligence, we witness her triumphs and heartbreaks just as Amanda is on the verge of a major creative breakthrough while her personal life begins to unravel. What results is a portrait of an artist whose tenacity and passion fill the pages of this ebullient novel, penned by a gifted writer whose imagination knows no limits.” —Alex Espinoza, author of Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime
"Amanda Ruiz romps through an art infused life of love, loss, and redemption, inviting the reader on a wild, exhilarating ride." —Carla Trujillo, author of Faith and Fat Chances
"This book is as creative as its main character, Chicana artist Amanda Ruiz, who endures several life-changing events while on the verge of breaking through." — Ms. Magazine
"The novel evolves and transforms the idea that art is everything until it encompasses a state of being wherein art is the undeniable core of an artist’s existence and of all of the actions of their life." —Foreword Reviews
On December 25, twenty-three hours after the doctor pronounced him, I gazed silently at my father’s vacant apartment. As I have mentioned, I entered his personal quarters. The bedroom had a beige wall-to-wall rug and a queen-size bed covered with a brown-and-orange quilt purchased in the 1990s from a Burbank garage sale. His closet featured rolling doors, painted white, which hid a small collection of jeans and flannel shirts, along with a neat row of sneakers, work boots, and cowboy boots. By the east wall stood a small walnut dresser with five drawers that contained his underwear, socks, white T- shirts, and three pastel sweaters. The sweaters huddled together inside the second top drawer. I turned from my father’s bed toward the dresser, opened the second drawer, and selected the yellow sweater. I slipped it over my head. I moved over to the bedroom’s door, which bore the full-length mirror on its interior side. I closed the door. I sat on the ground, cross- legged, and stared at myself in the glass.
The mirror returned to me the spectacle of my strange, shattered face and my flattened hair. I examined the lineaments of the sweater billowing around me, noting how the radiant curves of the cotton resembled the vividly restored crimson drapery of Peter Paul Rubens’s 1612 The Entombment. That picture is famous for Rubens’s rendering of the intricate, though now heavily repainted, folds of a red robe worn by an Apostle who carries Christ’s pallid body to its grave.
I glared at myself within the swirl of my father’s huge clothing. And then, without quite understanding the significance of the gesture, I snapped a self- portrait. I did so by blinking my eyes shut and opening them back up, like the lens of a camera.
I am a forty-two-year-old Chicana artist, what one might call una Conceptualista. I do not paint like Hans Holbein the Younger or Peter Paul Rubens. Instead, I make odd films and race around cities yelling protest anthems. I have made art about rape culture, a controlling Bulgarian curator, the collapse of a six-year romance, the gender binary, and the racial panopticon. I have staged plays and cut myself while singing opera and fan-dancing. Before large audiences, I have disclosed the particulars of my orgasms, my intersectional Latinx queerness, my body confidence, my girlfriend Xōchitl’s ice-hearted rejection of me, and my terrors of becoming an older woman within a misogynistic capitalist culture. For more than twenty years, I have relished transforming my personal pain into a discourse that I hope will enliven and not destroy the sensibilities of my audience. My maintenance of art’s delicate balances, which finds me ricocheting between shock and uplift, translates my life into a renewably consumable object whose manufacture gives me a reason to persist. All of this is to say that I am a working, autocritical cultural producer and not a raving madwoman, because I have learned how to strike a bargain between truth and beauty.
I have never been able, however, to negotiate my father’s death. The bitter facts of his disappearance measure to such a weight that they tip the scales of aesthetics into a landslide. Though it would be wonderful if I could trap my memories of my father into a bound and finished artifact, I have proven incapable of making art about what happened in Norris Cancer Hospital’s Room 311 in December of 2016.
Taking that “photograph” of myself with my shuttering eyes was the closest I ever got.