Archive for category Art

A Novel of Beauty

A year or so ago, I began announcing to various parties that I no longer had much interest in mainstream literature, that I seemed to be reading exclusively in the science fiction and fantasy fields, with an occasional weird slipstream thrown in. This was a bit of a surprise to me (the various parties I made my announcement to more-or-less shrugged), but I should have seen it coming.

What I have found over the years so attractive about sf and fantasy is that stories in these genres tend to be About Something, and they are about something less self-consciously than their mainstream counterparts, and they aren’t afraid to transport and entertain while they do so. They can be inquiries into science, politics, war, society, individual quests, religion, supernatural, psychology, humorous, adventure, and sometimes do almost all of the above within the covers of one book. Mainstream, lit-fic, seemed so bland, so two-dimensional by comparison.

Before I made the above shrug-inducing comment however, my husband gave me a new novel by Steve Martin. This was Christmas, 2010, and the new novel was An Object of Beauty. For reasons unknown, I picked it up and read it last week, and it turned out to be just what I was in the mood for.

Years ago I read Shopgirl, found it fresh and subtle, and so expected I would like this. I did. An Object of Beauty is About Something.

It is set on planet Earth, on the island of Manhattan, in the last decade of the twentieth century, and the first of the twenty-first. But with those two decades past us, hidden behind major historical and economic events, New York City in the 1990s seems as exotic as any alien planet, and its inhabitants as odd as any extraterrestrial life form. I follow our main character, a Manhattan Human named Lacey, and her friends, and I observe how they live: how they feed themselves, how they mate, and what objects they find sacred. Our first-person narrator, Daniel, understands the difficulty the reader might have entering this alien world, and is a faithful and reliable interpreter of the customs, totems, codes, and mores of this strange place and time.

The novel centers on a subculture of this alien land: The world of art, of galleries, auction houses, and money-laden collectors. It concerns the alliance, and the war, between beauty and commerce. It is all about what it means to be a sentient human in a very big universe with overwhelming forces pressed up against you. Some of those forces come from outside oneself, but many originate within. One can become a monster here without even realizing it.

Martin sees fit to include reproductions of some of the art that appears in the story. These are not glossy plates grouped in the center of the book, but simple cuts, reproductions of paintings placed precisely as they come up in the book. This makes for less-good resolution and picture quality. I found squinting, straining to see detail in these pieces. I assume, however, that this was the only way to achieve proper in-the-narrative placement, and that placement is dynamite. These pictures assault the reader. Lacey encounters them, we turn a page, and they jump out at us like highway robbers.

People this multi-talented are really annoying.

Comedian, Comedy Writer, Actor, Musician, Novelist, Playwright. Multi-talented people are really annoying. Can’t you just pick one thing to do well?

Reviews I glanced at were mixed. Some liked what I liked about it. Some were “disappointed.” One said (I think) that the setting overshadowed character. Aha, but for me, setting is character. These people cannot be who they are outside this setting. Some told me there were more sophisticated novels about the New York art scene. I’ve no doubt that’s true. But…for this alien to the art world, An Object of Beauty was just right.

Photo: TriviaKing


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Serendipitous Artistic Journey–A True Story

The year was 1987.

There was this blank wall at the back of the family room. The previous owners hung framed mirrors back there and it looked good, but we wanted something different. So much to do, moving in, though, so we let it slide.

Our friends were all beginning to buy large-screen TVs that were the size of a two-car garage. We thought of putting a TV on that side of the room, the only side it would fit on, but our old (even then) cable line would not extend that far from the source without significantly degrading our signal. And those big old fat-butt TVs were really expensive. We carried on with a small TV that fit in the niche built for that use on the opposite wall.

I tried various pieces of art on the wall, but nothing was big, or bright, enough. It’s kind of a big wall, at the end of a fairly long room.

One day, some time in the mid-nineties, my husband brought home an original oil painting from a charity auction. I hope it was a good charity, and that the money was put to good use, because I did not fall in love with this piece of art. Nonetheless, the painting was large, it was bright, it filled the space, and the colors–mostly orange and blue–went. It hung on the wall for eight to ten years. I never liked it that much, and each year, I liked it less.

One day, I took the painting down and foisted it off on an antique and collectible shop. I left it there on consignment, with the understanding that if it did not sell in thirty days, it would be donated to charity. I was asked if I wanted to be notified in the event it did not sell, to be given an opportunity to take it back. I did not.

Once again, I was left with a blank wall.

One Christmas, I attempted to hang a bunch of angels and lights up there, but really, it looked pathetic. Lame. Back to the blank wall.

So I had an idea: What if I took close-up photos of my backyard roses and hung them in an arrangement of eight? Right size, right colors. Off I went to Ikea to buy eight cheap, black, eight-by-ten frames.

Just beyond where they had the frames I was attracted to an oddity (not an unusual experience at Ikea). It appeared to be a package of three rolls of gauzy, jewel-toned fabric. I thought it was the type of fabric sold in craft shops: sheer, pretty stuff you might ruche around the tree, or over a mantle, at Christmas. I can always use more of that stuff, I said to myself, and purchased it, along with the frames.

Once home, I began printing up my photography.

The effect of all those roses was lame, almost as lame as the Christmas decorations had been. Even before I even framed them, I could see I had myself another dead end.

I decided to look at the fabric I’d bought, to cheer myself up.

Turned out, it wasn’t fabric. It was art.

It was a triptych of an out-of-focus orchid. The entire three panels measured about eight by fifteen feet all together. It was awful, and I could not imagine anyone hanging this thing up, it was so ugly.

But the colors were beautiful, jewel tones ranging from ruby, to gold, to emerald, to sapphire, to amythyst. I thought for a moment I could still use it to ruche around during the holidays, but then I read the tag: No washing, no drying, no dry cleaning, and no ironing. The material was an uber-unnatural polyester; I couldn’t use it for anything. There was nothing to do but take it back.

But then, like a zombie, not thinking, I brought over my eight frames. I began laying them down. At first, I attempted to put them together, to keep the orchid together. No. I placed them again, choosing to frame the prettiest color rectangles.

I had my wall. I had my art piece. The year was 2010. It took twenty-three years to fill my wall.

The Incredible Family Room Art Happening

What I learned from this serendipitous artistic journey:

1. Had I known what I was buying, I wouldn’t have bought it. Therefore, it is sometimes better not to know what I’m doing, and to do it anyway.

2. I returned to Ikea a week or so later, and saw the ugly triptych displayed on the wall. Had I taken note of it, I would have known what I was buying, and would not have bought it. Fortunately, I was oblivious. I learned that being oblivious can sometimes be a good thing. I would argue that this is a different lesson from the first. The first was lesson was the value of ignorance; the second, obliviousness.

3. Sometimes it takes twenty-three years to fill a blank wall. I need to learn patience.

4. It is good to let my zombie-self take over some tasks sometimes.

There it is: Ignorance, obliviousness, patience, and zombie-ness, all working together, solved my art problem.

Photo: I took it. All rights reserved.

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