An object of beauty

Dear Artist, Like a lot of artists, I don’t read a lot of novels. I think it has something to do with not releasing yourself to another person’s imagination. But this Christmas a good one came along: An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin. Yep, Steve Martin.

An object of beauty
by Steve Martin

It’s about an attractive, ambitious young woman who moves to New York from Atlanta and gets into the art business. First as a gopher at Sothebys, then as a gallerista at an upscale gallery, then as a gallery owner herself. It chronicles her rise through artist and writer boyfriends, curators, FBI agents, international dealers and art collectors smitten with the intrigue of it all. From the straight-shooters to the sleaze bags, the talk is of contemporary art and the meaning of it all is money. I don’t think I’ve recently read anything with so much truth, clear observation, in-depth understanding and wit. Steve gets the art world, human nature, body language, as well as the dark and funny twists of fate. He knows his stuff and he nails it. Lacey Yeager is a cute wit herself with a disarming charm and soft morals. But she’s a fast study and she soon understands the job is to get in low and get out as high as possible before fickle fashion turns. Art requires a shot of scholarship; the weaker the art the more the scholarship needed, and wise men jump to help her get a leg up, which she does with some frequency. Lacey also has an uncanny wisdom for what things might fetch, how to finesse, how to create shortage and demand. Her dough-head collectors have nothing much to offer the universe except their money and their willingness to pay vulgar prices for things that would be laughed out of town in Atlanta. It’s a romp. So what does this sort of true life adventure do for those of us who hang back in Humptulips with our precious little easels? It makes us realize the need for art with all its novelty and mystique is deeply ingrained in the human soul. And while the vast range of stuff that calls itself art includes craft, technique and beauty, as well as crap, it’s not soon to be erased from our psyches. It takes all kinds of people to make a world; you just have to watch out for some of them. In the meantime, it’s all fun. “Good going, Lacey!” it had me saying. “It was really nice knowing you. You’ve been a slice.”

Steve Martin

Best regards, Robert PS: “The presence of excessive wealth puts an unnatural spin on the appreciation of art.” (Steve Martin) Esoterica: There’s something to be said for putting your feet up with a good book between clumps of Christmas cake and shards of shortbread. Oh, and Scotch. Did I mention that Joe Blodgett kindly left his bottle? I think it was with the book to remind me of one of Joe’s more interesting quotes: “Art is a game where impotence struts the high road and capability smiles shyly from the quiet corners.” Lacey might have used that one.   Novels nourish creativity by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France  

“Psycho Kitty”
oil painting
by Jeffrey Hessing

I have to disagree. I love reading novels. They are an escape from my overactive brain and at the same time leave plenty of room for my imagination to visualize the characters and places. They are relaxing and nourishing at the same time. When I first came to Vence in the South of France there was an English speaking community of international artists. We would often trade and discuss our favorite novels at the cafe. I dislike stereotypes of artists as illiterate or inarticulate as seen in the film Pollock. I have a friend who is a brilliant computer nerd who told me he stopped reading a long time ago because it took up too much space in his brain. I was a little shocked, but if it works for him, fine. I didn’t read until after I graduated from University and became an artist. I suspect that non readers are evenly spread among the population. Finding a really good novel is such a joy. I finished one recently and it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I was reading slower at the end because I didn’t want it to stop. The art world is an easy shot to satirize. Here are a couple of good ones: The Painted Word by Thomas Wolfe, Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins and Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him by Danielle Ganec. I am going back into bed with a good book. There are 3 comments for Novels nourish creativity by Jeffrey Hessing
From: Casey Craig — Dec 31, 2010

I agree Jeffrey…I have been an avid reader since I could read. I don’t see it as a drain on my imagination for painting ideas, but a welcome respite into another world.

From: Ron — Dec 31, 2010

I do agree with you Jeffrey and since I have my Kindle,I find I have been reading many of those free classic authors that I missed.

From: Anonymous — Dec 31, 2010
  Strutting doesn’t guarantee capability by Cheryl Lobenberg, Sacramento, CA, USA  

watercolour painting
by Cheryl Lobenberg

Joe Blodgett’s quote “Art is a game where impotence struts the high road and capability smiles shyly from the quiet corners” is a quote that could be used against art that one does not like or fails to understand. I do know artists, however, who are extremely capable of strutting but have little artistic capability. Strutting is strutting and capability is capability… apples to oranges, don’t you know.         There are 3 comments for Strutting doesn’t guarantee capability by Cheryl Lobenberg
From: Kim — Dec 31, 2010

What a beautiful watercolor portrait. I had to look at this for some time.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 31, 2010

Very well done.

From: Merrikate — Jan 01, 2011

What a fine, fine portrait — I am in awe.

  Mass media vital to visual arts by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Timeless Grace”
oil painting
by Diane Overmyer

Bravo to Steve Martin for shedding a little light, be it good or bad, on the visual art world! In referring to Lacey Yeager, you mentioned fickle fashion of the fine art world. It never ceases to amaze me how different the visual art world is from the performing arts world. Why is it that once a performance is acclaimed it becomes a classic and never goes out of fashion? Yet amazingly paintings and sculptures seldom gain much attention from the general public and can totally be forgotten about except by those who happen to be fortunate enough to own them? Also, why is it when the National News highlights the lives of numerous important people who have died during the past year, it is so very, very rare to have a visual artist mentioned? I think it all boils down to mass media. If something is brought before the eyes of the public often enough it tends to stick in people’s minds. Those of us in the visual art world really need to come up with new and better ways to keep the visual arts in front of the public, not just an elite few.   Art is all about things that humans want by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Cherokee Lake Bloom”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Steve Martin ought to know this world of money and fame and art. He’s famous and he’s a big art collector himself. Art is all about things that humans want; beauty, sex, money, ego nourishment and most of all, inspiration. People are always short on inspiration, even people who have lots of money. The art world is a huge pond. Most of us artists are little minnows wiggling about the shallow margins searching for a morsel here and there to keep going. We all imagine what the porpoises, sailfish and sharks are doing and the big whales who require huge gulps of herring to make it through their day. The art world of New York City is as foreign to most of us as a trip on a huge luxury yacht. It’s human nature to think that other people are doing bigger things and having more fun, more money, more sex, more beauty than we are. Art is forever linked to human nature so there will always be a place for it in the world. There is 1 comment for Art is all about things that humans want by Paul deMarrais
From: Anonymous — Dec 31, 2010

I always seem to like the stuff you do and agree with your points taken here.We would probably have some good conversations over a beer or two…

  Hard work essential ingredient in art life by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA  

“Leaving the Nest”
encaustic painting
by Fleta Monaghan

It is a good time of year to curl up with a good book, and I can’t wait to read this one. Two books I just read in the last month will also give a peek at the art world. My Short Life of Trouble by Marcia Tucker is a testament to vision and determination. Marcia never let anything stop her, and it is amazing what she accomplished in founding the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Also, I have just finished Just Kids by Patti Smith, and could not put it down. I also saw her in a TV interview just yesterday and her advice to young artist is to “work hard.” She did mention being lucky, but stressed that the hard work aspect of being an artist as the essential ingredient to the life. There is 1 comment for Hard work essential ingredient in art life by Fleta Monaghan
From: Michael — Jan 03, 2011

I love your painting. It is frickin’ gorgeous.

  Books for hibernation by Karen Dawson, Vermont, USA  

“Carrying baskets”
original painting
by Karen Dawson

One of the few reasons that I treasure Vermont winters is the forced hibernation. This is a time for what normally feels like such a guilty pleasure: reading fiction! Yes — I am reading Steve Martin’s book too! — in the book store; while the bookstore may need my money, Steve probably doesn’t. In fact, I could use a little of his (smile). In addition to Steve’s book, I’m reading McEwan’s Solar, and I am working my way through the novels of Paulo Coelho and Halldor Laxness. Each is richly evocative of worlds that I probably won’t have access to in this lifetime. Laxness, a Nobel laureate is a funny funny man — e.g. Under the Glacier goes down as my favorite read in 2010. Coelho tackles themes that will resonate with any creative soul —  e.g. The Alchemist. And McEwan, well, he’s simply one of the most talented writers working in the English language, so that you can read his work and relax, knowing that you are in the hands of a master. There is 1 comment for Books for hibernation by Karen Dawson
From: Sheila Minifie — Dec 31, 2010

I think your paintings are amazing. Very inspiring and energy-jolting. Thanks!

  Listening to the muse in all art forms by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA  

“A Portrait of Mesa”
original painting
by Bobbo Goldberg

“Like a lot of artists, I don’t read a lot of novels. I think it has something to do with not releasing yourself to another person’s imagination.” This is surprising. Why shouldn’t a raconteur love a good symphony? Is there something that prevents an actor of note from appreciating, creating and collection fine art? In fact, many performers are also painters and students of art history; Vincent Price and Tony Bennett jump to mind. At the moment, I’m immersed in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes appreciating the wit and comic timing as much as the logical legerdemain. It seems to me that anyone involved in the creative process would treasure it in others and want to share in the experience. Left a bit unmoved during a recent showing of Tron, Legacy, I was enchanted by the bravura performance of Michael Sheen in the small role of Zeus. His showmanship and energy dwarfed this less than nimbly plotted display of gratuitous razzle-dazzle. Just today, I saw a drawing done by a dear friend and was stunned at the atmosphere, character and quality. Such moments are transformative. Those who hear the Muse even occasionally, have the capacity to hear it everywhere. Why not listen? I love “releasing myself to another person’s imagination.” It’s companionable, encouraging, sometimes uplifting and always neighborly. We creative characters share, and may take for granted, access to a world they might believe not afforded to everyone. I, for one, have found keeping company in that world to be a warm and enriching experience.   The escape to beauty by Brian Romer, Sechelt, BC, Canada  

“Evening Sun, on the Salal”
acrylic painting
by Brian Romer

I decided it was time to return to the south of France. Not for me, sleeping in crowded airports, awaiting full body checks and the resumption of snow cancelled European flights. No, while the high tides and strong winds combined to cause the waves out front to crash ashore and the rain pelted down endlessly on the studio skylight, I simply dug out some photos and soon found myself in the peaceful farming village of Courtauly were we spent a bit of time painting a few years ago. Although plein air is usually my thing, it was great fun to do a half a dozen or so little 8 x 10’s and 11 x 14’s in the warmth and comfort of my studio. Before long I was totally back in that delightful place (pop.76) about an hour and half drive south of Toulouse. I was painting furiously away, silently practicing my French, and listening to Cherie FM on my Wi-Fi radio, all at once. I even forgot about the wine! There is 1 comment for The escape to beauty by Brian Romer
From: Darrell Baschak — Dec 31, 2010

Good for you Brian for leaving a very small carbon footprint! Love your painting, very regal and stately.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for An object of beauty

From: John Ferrie — Dec 27, 2010
From: Brigitte Nowak — Dec 27, 2010
From: Sonal Panse — Dec 27, 2010

*Like a lot of artists, I don’t read a lot of novels. I think it has something to do with not releasing yourself to another person’s imagination.* But if you didn’t release yourself to another person’s imagination, you would keep yourself from a whole lot of interesting things. Personally, my imagination is enriched by reading a lot. It helps me see things from different perspectives, for one thing, and it has also brought my attention to things that I might not have noticed or known. Read a lot, I say. The more you know about the outer world, the better for your inner world.

From: Faith — Dec 27, 2010
From: Rene — Dec 28, 2010
From: Jackie Knott — Dec 28, 2010
From: misspeggyartist — Dec 28, 2010
From: Dwight — Dec 28, 2010

Oh, my goodness!! The world is in books. I worked with a writer once who said, over and over, “The basis of our civilization is black type on white paper.” This will probably remain true in spite of our newly found electric “books.” The paper makers may suffer a little, but type of one kind or another is still super important. Well, I suppose we ought to add that a civilization is also known by its art. But to ignore the writings of the ages is a great loss. I cannot understand how the creative ability of another artist, writer, painter, whatever, is a distraction from whatever desire or talent to create art I have. If you read these answers, Robert, this old guy says to you, “Read more, Robert.” It’ll help, not hurt.

From: John Mitchell — Dec 28, 2010
From: Cameron Elder — Dec 28, 2010

OMG!! What a hoot!!! How interesting to have mentioned Humptulips!! It is not toooooo far from Dosewallips. Now, is THAT a pair to draw to or what!! You all have an excellent day there. You made me smile—–

From: Dorothy Sherwood — Dec 28, 2010

Robert, you are a hoot !!! Love and look forward to your words of wisdom – twice a week – don’t know how you do it !!! Wishing you and all the team a happy and prosperous New Year (prosperous has a nice ring to it)

From: Jim Tubb — Dec 28, 2010

Got it for Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it and passing it on to another artist friend. Happy 2011.

From: Theresa Bayer — Dec 28, 2010

Not read fiction? Are you kidding? I love novels! People always ask me “Where do you get your ideas for your paintings?” and I tell them how voracious a reader I am, everything from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling and back again. And I am happy to know Steve Martin wrote an art novel. More reading fun! Recently Mr. Martin was on the Stephen Colbert show, featured not as a comedian or as an actor, but as a major art collector. Even he was featured in a goofy skit about art, it was quite evident he knows his stuff. I look forward to reading his art novel.

From: S. Knettell — Dec 28, 2010
From: Linda Stephan — Dec 28, 2010

Dear Robert, I read this book, without nearly as much appreciation as you did. Thank you for giving me a new take on it. Humptulips, Alabama

From: M. Matteson Smith — Dec 28, 2010

I just want to thank you for your wit and wisdom… very much appreciated and enjoyed!

From: Marvin Humphrey — Dec 28, 2010
From: Salrteest — Dec 28, 2010

Hey Steve, I would really like to come over to your house and see your art collection! I just started reading AOOB. I don’t read many novels- they have to grab me right off the bat. I like your writing, Steve, especially Picasso at the Lapine Agile, a really witty play. One thing I noticed while holding the book is the texture of the book jacket- lush varnished hand lettering, as if the letters were cut out of a beautifully glazed painting. The rest of the jacket looks and feels like canvas. Tsk- take that iPad!

From: JoAnn Clayton Townsend — Dec 28, 2010

Steve Martin’s work certainly provides interesting insights into the art market and its collectors. I happened to read it on Kindle, though, and believe it was pretty flimsy stuff. Of course, the images of artwork didn’t come through well on Kindle, and I wonder whether they might have contributed to positive reception of the book. The plot was excruciatingly weak, and the characters were one-dimensional. I read Martin in the New Yorker from time to time, and believe he is a better writer than this book demonstrates. In short, I found it disappointing.

From: Dianne Erickson — Dec 28, 2010
From: Mike Drummond — Dec 29, 2010

Implicit in Martin’s novel is the understanding that contemporary art is a five legged stool. Artist, dealer, critic, curator and customer. If a turd is selected and those five characters come into play, “art” is created. It doesn’t have to be a conspiracy. It happens automatically because all five have a vested interest.

From: Jennifer — Dec 29, 2010

I too take a bit of offense to the phrase “Like a lot of artists, I don’t read fiction..” I guess I missed taking part in that poll, because I definitely would not have agreed with the sentiment. Reading fiction (good fiction!) is wonderful- the ability to imagine and visualize the settings and characters from a fiction novel is stimulating to my imagination and my creativity. I’ve been reading since I can’t remember when, and I don’t believe it’s hurt my artistic abilities at all. Perhaps you haven’t been finding the right fiction books for your imagination, if you feel they’re a detriment??

From: Helen Horn Musser — Dec 29, 2010

You give much insight with your considerable wit and knowledge of the principles of art. Time is so valuable; I have books on everything, from health to political science to art info. I tend to digest yours and others who can condense much information in a few words and am so grateful for your wisdom. Give me mountains of information in a few words to ponder and reflect on. Then there’s more time to explore with paint and brush our world, our beliefs, and our beauties that take us beyond the now. Thanks to all for another wonderful year of your thoughts and humor. Happy New Year!

From: F C Moravec — Dec 29, 2010

My experience is anecdotal, but as far as I can see, most of my artist friends are somewhat or very active at consuming non-fiction–research, biography, history, art books and magazines both how to and coffee-table.

From: Bart Lindstrom — Dec 29, 2010

I love your art and your mind. You tweak my thinking and often make me smile and wonder. My deepest gratitude.

From: Marilyn Hartley — Dec 29, 2010
From: Jan Lee — Dec 29, 2010

I’m not surprised by the fact that Steve Martin wrote such an informed book. Undoubtedly he is a genius. Have you seen his play about Einstein and Picasso, for instance? I can’t wait to read this.

From: Darla — Dec 29, 2010
From: bohemian spirit — Dec 30, 2010

Give me two sticks a rock and I will make for you a masterpiece.

From: Marsha Connell — Dec 30, 2010

I adored Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapine Agile which brought laughing tears to my eyes much of the evening, many years ago now. The conversations between Picasso and Einstein, the artist mind and the scientist mind, just cracked me up, more than any other play I can remember. I might have laughed more than anyone else in the audience. . . I found its irreverence so refreshing about those things we take so seriously, myself being one of the serious ones, artist and college professor, married to a scientist.

From: Susan Kellogg, San Leanna, TX — Dec 30, 2010
From: Holly Compton Alderman — Dec 31, 2010

I found An Object of Beauty a treasury and tour of “intriguing insider info” like having a best friend tell all, curiously with many of Steve Martin’s “fictional” characters, collectors and dealers throughout matching the names highlighted in another enlightening sizzling read, Seven Days in the Art World. I also enjoyed Martin’s Born Standing Up, especially the revelations, the moments, 2 unsettling epiphanies when he began to appreciate the essence of being unique – he would have to be entirely original. When this dawned on him he had already been working for many years, having started to work at age 10. Martin is extremely subtle, funny, poignant and deep. Also his play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile made me laugh out loud. Guess I’ll read An Object of Beauty again, with all the blog comments fresh in my mind.

From: angie — Dec 31, 2010

thank you for the twice weekly robert i love and enjoy every one of them and the intros to other artists from everywhere god bless you for all your hard work

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Dec 31, 2010
From: Marie Pinschmidt — Dec 31, 2010
From: Robert Hutchison, Luther OK — Dec 31, 2010

Two or three of the comments above reflected my opinion of “the book” by Martin, in that I found his prose to be choppy and shallow, and seeming to have been written more to be spoken than to be read. To be fair, I have read only the excerpts included in Amazon’s sales pitch, found in the link furnished in Robert G’s letter. That alone would have been enough to cause me to wait for my library to offer a copy for my risk-free reading, but just knowing that it is an Amazon offering so early after being published (and generously discounted) lowers its potential even further for me. Steve Martin is undeniably brilliant. He will leave for posterity an important life achievement in his writings and performances, and I’d guess that only those envious of his talents would try to deny his well-deserved accolades. I hope not to be thought of as an envious one. And, speaking of accolades, our own RG gave us a rare bit of bawdy humor in this review, worthy of a good laugh-out-loud in its own right; you can find it in the Letter above: “…and wise men jump to help her get a leg up, which she does with some frequency.”

From: Karen R. Phinney — Jan 01, 2011
From: Liz Reday — Jan 02, 2011
From: Reg Barney — Jan 10, 2011

I read a lot of junk, mostly genre novels, suspense, intrique, mystery, action/adventure, that sort of thing. It has a tendency to clear the sluices of my brain without lodging a lot a detritus that I don’t need. What I do not mean by that is information. I like information. I’m just very tired of negotiating a lot of half baked philosophy (religious, political, social, or what have you). It appears to me that a lot of people are inclined to want to adopt positions, attitudes, and perspectives that they find in books, without thoroughly vetting them (as they say in the spy novels). I have nothing against beliefs in general, as long as they are not so rigid that they cannot also encompass and include the more obvious truths of the world, or lead to violent or other anti-social actions. I admit that this sounds a bit anti-educational, but that’s not what is intended. It’s more of an anti-rigidity, or anti-certainty position. The more you believe something, the more you should be able to answer the difficult questions about it. I find that at this point in my life– being a “certain age”– I’ve not got to be either dogmatic or public about my beliefs, and that’s a relief. Then when I need to relax from the pressures of daily endeavor, the genre novels help immensely. In some respects it’s almost as good as meditation. [ By the way, Martin is a skilled banjo player and seems to hold his own among blue grassers and the like. No mean feat, that. ]

From: Diana deMontigny — Jan 25, 2011

Belated Season’s Greetings Robert. Did you get the Steve Martin Book for Christmas? Your comments are intriguing enough to want me to read this, so maybe the publisher would pay a commission for the promo – do you think you think? I won’t ,emtopm ot ‘casue I love what you’re doing now. Diana

From: Diana deMontigny — Jan 25, 2011

i.e. Revision to the comment on the Steve Martin Book – “I won’t mention it, ’cause I like what you’re doing now?” Sorry for the typos. Diana

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Autumn At The Cranberry Bog

oil painting, 25 x 31 inches by Dianne Levine, Bedford, MA, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Pike Sullivan of Meadows of Dan, VA, USA, who wrote, “I recommend the movie Junebug filmed in North Carolina. It’s about a guy from North Carolina who comes back to his home town with his gallery owner girlfriend looking for outsider art. It’s really funny.” And also Helen Putnam Bretz who wrote, “I saw Steve Martin interviewing and discussing his new book on Charlie Rose. For the first time I saw Martin with depth and genuineness that I had never encountered before. He wore it well. I was impressed and I look forward to reading his book. Your genius comes from letting everyone feel you are their friend. We respond to our friends.” And also Margaret Blank of Mirror, AB, Canada, who wrote, “I’ve just finished eating up Bury Your Dead the latest Inspector Gamache mystery by Canadian author, Louise Penny. Over bits and pieces of the past 3 days, I enjoyed it with good scotch, or with good dark coffee — depending on the time of day. It was rich, satisfying, and totally delicious.”    

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