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On the Art of Life and Vice Versa

by Michael Kimmelman

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 2005
ISBN: 1-59420-055-6
Publisher: Penguin Press

The chief art critic for the New York Times offers an amiable, even breezy discussion the about the ways various artists transform their circumstances into works that can inform and enrich the rest of us.

Kimmelman’s overall take can be ascertained from the fact that beautiful is the second word in the first chapter, delicious the last one before the bibliography. Beauty and deliciousness fill the pages in between, as do numerous anecdotes about artists (noted and otherwise), descriptions and analyses of individual works, conversations with creators, bons mots and clichés, wisdom and waggery. Strolling through life and galleries with Kimmelman (Portraits, 1998) is a bit like an afternoon with a loquacious, jovial uncle whose ceaseless river of words doesn’t always feature fresh water. Still, the overall experience remains memorable. The author writes with consummate ease and lucidity about a world he knows intimately. He wants to show us that the struggles and obsessions of artists parallel our own—and that the glories they create can be ours both directly and vicariously. We hear about Bonnard’s long obsession with his model and lover, Marthe, and we’re invited to see that solitude and private passion can stimulate our own creativity. Kimmelman climbs two mountains and considers the experience only diverting, thus confirming his notion that, unlike our ancestors, we find it difficult to see the sublime in nature. He goes on to craft fine chapters about the art of photography; about a Baltimore dentist who collected 75,000 light bulbs, including some from the Enola Gay; about Jay DeFeo, who spent 11 years working on a single massive piece, The Rose; about the use of nudes. This latter chapter contains a terrific running account of Philip Pearlstein at work with his models. Kimmelman also takes us along on his personal pilgrimage to New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Texas to see large, site-specific works.

Ebullient brightness permeates these pages, illuminating even the darkest corners. (Illustrations throughout)