Dread and Delight features the work of contemporary artists using canonical fairy tales to examine the complexities of postmodern life. In the history of art, the widespread use of fairy tales is new—a phenomenon of the late twentieth century that continues to gain traction. Surveying some forty years of artistic production, this is the first book to consider why artists have turned to fairy tales and how they are reinvigorating the genre.
In recalling specific stories—including “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and others—some artists have embraced fairy tales’ promises of transformation and championing of the disenfranchised. Others, however, have plumbed their darker elements—poverty, abuse, addiction, and exploitations of power. Many artists engage in what Renaissance scholar Armando Maggi describes as “dirty” storytelling, a disjointed and spontaneous mode of narration that revels in the marvelous and denies easy explanations. Rather than merely recasting classical fairy tales in contemporary contexts, these artists dismantle and reassemble the stories in wholly transformative ways.
In 1982, conceptual artist John Baldessari noted, “What appears to be trivial in a fairy tale, etc. could be the lingering remnant of the memory of the soul.” Focusing on specific cultural contexts for fairy tale subjects, Dread and Delight explores the ways in which artists have countered this notion of fairy tales as inconsequential and instead revealed their relevance for our lives today.