I absolutely fell in love with this wistful coming-of-age story about a young art student in search of her identity. Joey grapples with family dysfunction, complex friendship dynamics, and the joys and challenges of creativity as she tries to figure out how to complete a self-portrait assignment before the semester ends. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you might even pick up a sketchbook of your own before it's over.
October 2022 Indie Next List
“Chelsea Martin completely nails what it’s like to be in a creative space that is quietly but heavily divided by class. Who can focus on creativity when they worry about making rent? The protagonist is written with such care and insight.”
— Audrey Kohler, BookWoman, Austin, TX
"Portrait of the artist as a broke and brilliant, hungry and funny young woman" (Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want), this hilarious and incisive coming-of-age novel about an art student from a poor family struggling to find her place in a new social class of rich, well-connected peers is perfect for fans of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot and Weike Wang’s Chemistry
At her San Francisco art school, Joey enrolls in a film elective that requires her to complete what seems like a straightforward assignment: create a self-portrait. Joey inexplicably decides to remake Wes Anderson’s Rushmore despite having never seen the movie. As Tell Me I’m An Artist unfolds over the course of the semester, the assignment hangs over her as she struggles to exist in a well-heeled world that is hugely different from any she has known.
Miles away, Joey’s sister goes missing, leaving her toddler with their mother, who in turn suggests that Joey might be the selfish one for pursuing her dreams. Meanwhile, her only friend at school, the enigmatic Suz, makes meaningful, appealing art, a product of Suz's own singular drive and talent as well as decades of careful nurturing by wealthy, sophisticated parents.
A masterful novel from an author known for her candid and searching prose, Tell Me I’m An Artist examines the invisible divide created by class and privilege, ruminates on the shame that follows choosing a path that has not been laid out for you, and interrogates what makes someone an artist at all.
About the Author
CHELSEA MARTIN is the author of the essay collection Caca Dolce and the novella Mickey, among other books. She lives in Spokane, WA with her husband and child.
A NYLON Most Anticipated Book of the Year A Millions Most Anticipated Book of the Year
“Tell Me I’m an Artist is jammed with dialogue, female friendships, family dramas and Internet search results. ('Lee Krasner,' alongside 'Pop-Tart nutritional value.') Readers might find something of an even more youthful Sally Rooney in these things . . . [Martin's] humor and nuance keep the reader going . . . Though Martin’s novel shows the influence of Rooney’s brilliant ear for dialogue, both online and IRL, Tell Me I’m an Artist is a direct rebuttal to the notion that novelists must ignore precarity if they want to be marketable." —Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times "It’s the larger feminist question ungirding these pages that gives the book its weight: What do women owe their families? And what happens when they cut those ties to become artists? . . . Even though Joey doesn’t end up making any great art, her path is a reminder that pursuing one’s vision of an artistic life is its own reward, and a messy personal life is often part and parcel of the art journey." —Anisse Gross, San Francisco Chronicle
"In this extraordinarily moving story about class, art and family life, Martin delicately uncovers the ways in which the university acts only as a superficial equalizer, and students who grow up in generational poverty contend with burdens invisible to their peers . . . Something this book does better than any campus novel I’ve read is highlight the way that class differences really manifest." —Emmy Levy, The Seattle Times
"Even while Tell Me I'm An Artist distills some pretty heavy subjects, Martin does so in her signature breezy, humor-infused style. Joey is unapologetically self-deprecating, but completely relatable in her awkward attempts to fit in and discover her artistic purpose." —Chey Scott, The Inlander
"A novel for anyone who's ever thought, 'WTF am I doing?' about their art." —Sophia June, NYLON, One of the Must-Read Books of the Month
"An intimate, funny, and poignant portrait of a youthful, artful life in flux." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"Martin is certainly a duchess if not a queen of autofiction, and lovers of her previous novella Mickey or essay collection Caca Dolce will be looking for her comeback." —Erin Taylor, Observer
"Tell Me I’m An Artist argues the forging of identity itself is a creative process. In it, Martin delineates the way the creative process can be a conduit for either self-discovery or self-annihilation . . . Every person, young or old, who has ever wanted to make something will see some part of themselves in some part of [Joey]. What makes Joey’s journey immensely readable is Martin’s obvious empathy for her protagonist and for the act of creation." —Naomi Elias, KQED Arts
"Tell Me I’m An Artist is a manifesto, a search history, a film script, a to-do list, and even a series of Craigslist posts, but above all, it’s a resonant and moving portrait of an artist searching for her identity." —Abigail Oswald, Chicago Review of Books
"Chelsea writes with wry observational humor about both her internal and external worlds in a way that is deeply warm, relatable and utterly hilarious. Tell Me I’m An Artist is a campus novel of sorts, but an art school campus—a place many readers have never had the pleasure of visiting. And it’s such a fun place to visit when the reader gets to do it through Chelsea’s brilliant writing." —Barrie Miskin, Write or Die Tribe
"Tell Me I’m An Artist is a stunning, hilarious, perfect ode to growing up and growing into yourself as a girl, a person, a friend, a family member, and an artist . . . A masterpiece and a piece of comedic genius; I loved it and so will you." —Julia Hass, A Literary Hub Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"An art student wrestles with creative and family trouble in this empathetic novel. . . . The art school comedy of manners gives way to a deeper story about navigating disparate worlds and struggling with situations without easy answers. An unconventional and subtly powerful coming-of-age story." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Martin’s youthful, character-driven latest digs into imposter syndrome and class differences among a crew of San Francisco art students . . . With a series of short, one-to-five-page scenes spliced by Joelle’s Google searches and handwritten journal entries, Martin captures her protagonist’s youthful insecurity and desire for creative direction . . . [Her] humor shines." —Publishers Weekly
"Portrait of the artist as a broke and brilliant, hungry and funny young woman, Chelsea Martin’s Tell Me I’m An Artist is an acutely felt and beautifully rendered depiction of all the absurd, messy, complicated layers of trying to make things, a story of not only ambition and yearning, but also of triumph and loving." —Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want
"Overflowing with humor and honesty, Tell Me I'm An Artist interrogates the life of the artist from an engrossingly contemporary angle. It's a monument to the big and small ways in which we craft our notions of artistry, and to Chelsea Martin's dazzling skill as a writer." —Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
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