Five novels that celebrate art in all its forms

Words: Chelsea Haith
Images: Sourced


The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie
Rushdie’s work is art and the way he constructs worlds in this novel is sublime. The art celebrated in this one is the art of love, the construction of fantasy be sheer force of love. Characters paint themselves into and out of reality and Rushdie’s use of magical realism through the art theme highlights the importance of art and artists to any society: art shows who we are as individuals and a society.


Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Charles Ryder is a character enslaved to beauty and art, and Waugh recreates images and Ryder’s own experiences of the art of Italy and the architecture of Brideshead itself so beautifully, painting the pre-war world as Ryder does, vividly and with emotion. Ryder’s status as an artist also colours the narration and brings to the fore of the reader’s mind the effect of art on a man bred into a particular English class but thinking both above and below it, as an artist unfettered by class and religious constraints.


Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
A novel that charts the development and evolution of female friendships from the cruelty of adolescence to the bitterness and acceptance (or not) of adulthood, Cat’s Eye shows the psychology behind developing artistic communities and the reality of a controversial painter, Elaine Risley, the protagonist. The title allows her to regain lost memories and these then influence her work, highlighting the effect of memory and experience on art and the interconnection between our experiences and our artistic efforts.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
Before it was a film starring Zach Galifianakis this was a not-entirely fictional novel about a teenager, Craig Gilner (almost synonymous with Ned Vizzini), coming to terms with depression and girls and the world at large. He discovers a talent for art that leads him, hallelujah, out of his depression and into the world where he values living and breathing and skipping (it makes sense if you read the book, which you should). Vizzini booked himself into a mental institution just prior to writing the book and then, on his release, squeezed the book out in three months (so the legend goes).


The Portrait of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
This list would be woefully lacking without the greatest novel of all time about beauty and time and how art displays where the truth lies between the two. Dorian Gray is obsessed with his personal beauty (and the beauty of all of the women within 50 metres of himself) and when his portrait becomes the site of his physical and moral decay, he is left to philander at will for decades without consequence, until one day his life catches up with him…