“Identity Unknown” book 7.26.2018

I recently finished reading Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists, written by Donna Seaman. Published in early 2017, I borrowed it from my local library.


Seaman includes seven female artists: Louise Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Lois Maillou Jones, Ree Morton, Joan Brown, Christina Ramberg, and Lenore Tawney. I’d heard of most of these artists, either from my art history classes or from my own curiosity and research about art.

While it was a great overview of female artists, Seaman’s writing style frustrated me for a few reasons.

  • Her overuse of adjectives and descriptive terms gave me a strong urge to skim the pages, but because I was so curious about these artists, I remained in the writing.
  • Seaman appeared to ramble and often wrote about seemingly irrelevant people or places, but in retrospect, I think she was just trying to give a better rounded historical reference or explanation for a particular artist’s style or decisions.
  • Finally, while the author included many descriptions of pieces, there were few actual photos. Included are about about half a dozen color photos of a sampling of each artist’s works, along with a black and white photo here and there. But the author writes in great detail about works for which photos are not included, which for me was frustrating. I wanted to see what she was writing about. I should’ve had my computer at hand to look up those pieces on the Internet.

On the plus side, I can tell I liked the book, because when I was finished reading I found I’d marked a dozen pages with little torn scraps of paper – reminders to return to those pages later and get more info about items that grabbed my attention. Another positive it that its one of the few books about female artists, who were often neglected or lost in history. Or herstory;)

The author writes “This is not a book of art criticism. Nor is it a feminist polemic, though feminist I am. I wrote about these artists to learn more about their lives and spend more time immersed in their art. I wanted to discover what drove them, what obsessed them, what art meant to them, how they lived, how they worked.” And that’s exactly what this book does.


3 thoughts on ““Identity Unknown” book 7.26.2018

  1. Perhaps there was another book here, one the author would have liked to publish. But could not get –or maybe could not afford to get–the rights to print those crucial missing images! Maybe getting your review will spur her on to a second edition that includes more art. Your and other voices might help her justify the added time and money involved to someone? in order to increase readers’ access to the other art.


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