Queer Formalism: The Return by William J. Simmons is an essay that is inspired by the author’s original work, published in 2013, “Notes on Queer Formalism,” a work the author wrote as an undergraduate and that laid the groundwork for the original ideas and concepts explored in this book. In this groundbreaking work of queer art, the author challenges readers to rethink ''queer formalism'' and the concept of queerness. He takes readers on a journey that is intellectually exciting and emotionally stimulating, discussing the works of a wide selection of artists — Sally Mann, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, Math Bass, Lorna Simpson, Laurie Simmons, Alex Prager, Jessica Lange, Lana Del Rey, and Louise Lawler, and many others. The author allows the works of these artists to provoke reflection in readers, giving compelling autobiographical notes, and prompting readers to discard the biases with which most readers and critics approach queer art. Without readily providing definitive answers, Simmons has the uncanny ability to pull readers into his consciousness, sharing powerful moments from his life, including his cigarette addiction and the bouts of cough that oppressed him as a sophomore.
Fans of queer art will adore Queer Formalism: The Return, and while it is a stellar work of art in itself, it is philosophical in nature, taking thought beyond the fringes of normalized artistic criticism; it is pedantic in style, piquing the mind with many questions and offering insights on art and the artist for readers to ponder. Simmons’ writing has an irresistible appeal to academics, artists, and philosophers, and I enjoyed the enlivening commentaries the author offers while putting side by side works of some of the well-known artists of our time. There is so much to love in this book and while the essay is a compelling critique of queer formalism, it invites readers to reconsider the concept of legacy as an ultimate destination of artistic expression, observing that, for many, “the only way to reach that legacy is through the paranoid language of critique; that is, we must find the heretofore unconsidered dissertation or artistic practice, even as we are meant to deconstruct notions of originality.” It is original, thought-provoking, and captivating. While discussing art, the author lays bare his soul — you find yourself pulled in irresistibly.