Tell Me I’m an Artist

Author: Martin, Chelsea

Publication Date:

September 2022



Original language and publisher

English | Soft Skull

Territories Handled

English (World)


Literary Fiction

Tell Me I’m an Artist

Author: Martin, Chelsea


Deft and exquisite and singular, Chelsea Martin’s Tell Me I’m an Artist urges us to consider what we owe—a lot or a little or zilch—to our families, our friends, our ambitions, ourselves. Funny and crushing, lithe and deep, this novel is that rare combination of pleasure and profundity, a portrait of the artist as a work-in-progress. — Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac

Anyone who has ever tried to do meaningful work in spite of a growing suspicion that nothing matters will find a home in this hilarious, heart-piercing book, and a memorable companion in its young but wise narrator. Chelsea Martin is a born storyteller. — Emily Gould, author of Perfect Tunes

A 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; 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.