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TEMPERAMENTS by Dan Hofstadter

TEMPERAMENTS

Artists Facing Their Work

By Dan Hofstadter

Pub Date: April 7th, 1992
ISBN: 0-395-58111-3
Publisher: Knopf

 For The New Yorker, Hofstadter has taken over the role Calvin Tomkins used to fill--as art chronicler: half critic/half profile- maker. And at this he is very, very good. In the five long pieces collected here--about Jean Helion, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Avigdor Arikha, David Bomberg and the subsequent generation of London painters (Kossof, Kitaj, etc.), and Richard Diebenkorn--he almost negligently scatters brilliant associational perceptions (why, for example, Cartier-Bresson the photojournalist was hardly different from C-B the surrealist: the same ``cretinous voyaging'') while being cannier than most art writers about the varieties and dilemmas--glorious both--of representational painting. He also writes (occasionally he posturingly overwrites) with a genuinely beautiful style. But what is a little disconcerting is the form of the articles: Hofstadter seems to appear in the company of the artists he writes about here not exactly as a journalist but as an instant intimate or friend; there is an air of relaxed offhandedness (``I got to know Richard Diebenkorn in 1986, a few years before he and his wife, Phyllis, moved from Santa Monica to Healdsburg, in northern California. Dick was already sixty-five then but a lot of his strict, formal, well-to-do Protestant background still showed''). This self-conscious relaxation of role carries over as well into what he has to say about the painters: He has scorn finally for the Londoners (``dungeon masters'') on account of their all-or-nothing aesthetic neuroticism and battles with life, while reserving his highest admiration for the artist who, like Diebenkorn, is serious without solemnity. Deflation of high artistic pretension and behavior in favor of pragmatic dilution always has been, editorially, a New Yorker stock-in-trade--and Hofstadter is particularly good at it. But the attractiveness of the interesting men (and most often quite interesting artists too) that he writes about seems finally more about personal style than art.