Steve Martin’s latest book, An Object of Beauty, wooed me with its art world setting. I often romanticize the art experience when I think of going to an art museum, which this book inspired me to do, but which I refrained from because I know how it would turn out.
When I envision a trip to the art museum, it plays like a movie montage through my head. I see myself marveling at all the great paintings. But two things actually happen:
1) I never “get it,” because there is no osmosis at work there. Being in the presence of these great works and the people who could appreciate them don’t help me.
2) Similar to the five minutes or so it takes to watch a movie montage, I can get through a section of the museum and I’m ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate art. I just don’t have the patience for it.
So if it wasn’t the paintings the book talked about and the astronomical amount of money people paid for them that drew me in, what was it about the book I like? It was the people and the functions these paintings gathered. I would love to experience it, although, I fear I might be romanticizing this as much as I do the art museum.
Thankfully there is no prerequisite to read this book, well you might think literacy would be one, but where I see you point... I tell you there were also pictures in it. They were of the paintings referenced in the book, so maybe it wouldn’t be a contribution to someone not reading the text.
But getting back to my gratitude of not having to know art to enjoy the book. I’m sure maybe someone who does know a thing or two about paintings might enjoy this book more than I, but I don’t know those people so I can’t confirm.
Perhaps I’m just doing it wrong, and I say this because Steve Martin said this in a Los Angeles Times interview about the first painting he ever bought:
“I found that it wasn’t until I spent time alone with it that I had any kind of communion with it.”
Okay, if you know where I’m going here then you’ll know it only leads to jail. Because even if I bring a printed copy of that article to the art museum, I don’t see them finding me wanting to spend alone time with their paintings as anything other than illegal.
Anyway, I’ve provided a real review written by Publisher Weekly below. I couldn’t in good conscious only leave you with my recommendation which would go something lame like: if you love art or love the idea of art, maybe you should read it.
Publisher Weekly Review:
Martin compresses the wild and crazy end of the millennium and finds in this piercing novel a sardonic morality tale. Lacey Yeager is an ambitious young art dealer who uses everything at her disposal to advance in the world of the high-end art trade in New York City. After cutting her teeth at Sotheby's, she manipulates her way up through Barton Talley's gallery of "Very Expensive Paintings," sleeping with patrons, and dodging and indulging in questionable deals, possible felonies, and general skeeviness until she opens her own gallery in Chelsea. Narrated by Lacey's journalist friend, Daniel Franks, whose droll voice is a remarkable stand-in for Martin's own, the world is ordered and knowable, blindly barreling onward until 9/11. And while Lacey and the art she peddles survive, the wealth and prestige garnered by greed do not. Martin (an art collector himself) is an astute miniaturist as he exposes the sound and fury of the rarified Manhattan art world. If Shopgirl was about the absence of purpose, this book is about the absence of a moral compass, not just in the life of an adventuress but for an entire era.