TWO BOOKS CAME recently across my desk — a novel, The American Painter Emma Dial written by Samantha Peale and Seven Days in the Art World, an insider’s look into the high doings of the art world by sociologist Sarah Thornton — and I highly recommend both to my readers. First, the novel — The plot revolves around a woman who works as an “assistant” to a famous painter, her job to actually execute the works for which he is both lauded and handsomely paid. She does the work; he gets the acclaim. She gets a salary; he earns a fortune and fame. Although its main character is a woman artist, its appeal and relevance goes far beyond the age-old plight of being a female in a male-dominated world. I believe it ought not only be read by women or by artists, but by anyone interested in the inner workings of what is commonly called the “artworld”. In fact, I would not even limit it to those interested in art, its making, its selling, or in the underlying machinations of the myriad people and groups that serve as middlemen between creator and buyer. Peale goes far deeper than the vagaries of a world that depends on hyped advertising, celebrity, gullibility, ego-building, elitism, and money. Rather, she delves into the mysteries of creativity, human folly, unfulfilled dreams, self-betrayal, naiveté — even submission to a cause one cannot believe in. This might be fiction, but it has a wealth of truth to ponder. Peale is a graduate of The New School and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has an insider’s handle on how the system works. Like her main character, Emma Dial (who works for the likewise fictional character of “Michael Freiburg”), Samantha Peale is an artist who once worked for the real-life Jeff Koons. Thornton’s book, Seven Days in the Art World is a work of non-fiction that can sometimes sound like a world that must be make-believe. A sociologist that has weighty credentials in the artwriting business, Thornton takes the reader on a seven-day tour of sites — an auction house, an artist’s studio, an art fair, an art class, etc. — where art is made, touted, sold, discussed, taught, interpreted and analyzed by those supposedly “in the know”. Incisive, sometimes almost tongue-in-cheek, always informative, Thornton serves up as objective an insider’s view that one can come away with from a world that literally deals with illusion — i.e. art. In her chapter in which she visits the studio of an artist (in Japan), we see Samantha Peale’s fictional plot come to vivid life — a world-renowned artist relying on assistants to do the actual work of making a work of art. This practice, incidentally — made popular since Warhol and his “factory” — is justified by reference to the historical use of apprentices in the studio/workshops of past masters where, often, the presence of the “master’s hand” is conjectural at best. Taken together, both books are eye-openers for both the general public, a public often at the mercy of pundits who almost always have an axe to grind, and the average struggling artist outside the “mainstream” trying to find his/her way. You wont regret the time taken to read these books.
Two Books You Ought to Take a Look At.