Monday, January 3, 2011

An Object of Beauty

"Artists flooded Manhattan, then all the boroughs of New York City, and it became inexplicable why one artist would be swept up by a dealer while others of apparently equal talent would be ignored." ~Daniel Franks

The long weekend was a nice opportunity to finish a good book, and the book I'd been working on since Christmas was Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty. It was on my short list of gifts I would like from Santa, and sure enough it was there for me on Christmas day.

Steve Martin's antics as a comedian may have brought him fame, but his skills in so many other directions are undeniable from actor to musician to author. Yes, he's a very good writer and original. Ten to one at some point in a 290 page novel most writers would go lazy and resort to cliches. The only cliche in this book is something one of the characters says, which happens in life. People say things that are cliche.

Otherwise its a fresh, insider look at a whacked out art scene where valuations have lost all proportion. It's an ongoing feature of our post-modern world. A sentence that summed this up, from page 61: "and even though I was somewhat acclimated to the art world while writing my fledgling reviews for ARTnews or Artforum, I was still surprised that no belligerent letters appeared in the paper condemning huge sums spent on art that could be better spent on children's hospitals." And that pretty much sums up my own impressions when I read my ArtDaily Newsletter and see the abnormous prices these high-prices collectibles garner.

An Object of Beauty is the story of Lacey Yeager, a young, ambitious (an compellingly attractive) woman in the art scene, as told by friend and art scene journalist Daniel Franks. The whole of it is written as if documentary, remaining richly believable to the very last word. Like all good novels it has romance and suspense, and makes its points by showing things as they are, not moralizing. There's a small parade of interesting minor characters here as well. If you've ever wondered what makes all these art collectors tick, you can get a feel for it here as you get to know the players, the artists and the global nature of "the scene."

Not all of the reviewers were as captivated by Martin's novel as I was, but I have to say that there aren't many books that make me want to contact the author, ask more questions, and even bare my soul. (I have written -- and received replies from -- Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry when this same urge struck me.)

Here's a paragraph from one reviewer at that I liked:

In telling a tale of misplaced values and money run amok, in a world where relationships are polluted by greed and dishonesty, what comes through is Martin's essential modesty. He avoids making definitive statements. While he may wax philosophical, especially on matters of aesthetics (his own seduction by the power of great art is evident), he makes no grand pronouncements. Instead, there is simply a keen-eyed view of human failings and, sadder still, a sober acceptance of the rarity of love. Martin is a quiet moralist.

As an artist myself I especially liked the the occasional mulling over how an object of beauty to an object of value. The writing is natural, and the story worthy of having been written. But like art itself, knowing that we all have different tastes, I can't say everyone needs to read this book. If, on the other hand, you have had any proximity to the big world art scene, or ambitions in that direction, to you I most certainly commend this book.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Have a great day.


Adee said...

nice review!

i feel honesty is amongst the most underrated characteristics when it comes to art.

you have rightly said, this book might appeal to some, not appeal to some. i found your review of this book honest, at the very least.

keep writing, keep creating and have an inspired year ahead :)

ENNYMAN said...

Thank you. I have learned over time that what moves one person leaves another cold, whether art, poetry or literature. The important thing to me is that artist is himself or herself honest. Hemingway once said, "The writer who laughs all the way to the bank is crying inside." That pretty much sums it up for artists of all ilk... painful as it is.

Best to you in 2011.