Portraits: Talking With Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre, And Elsewhere
Attempting to put art into words can be like trying to put that proverbial lightning in a bottle: art often seems to defy description, much as art critics attempt to do so. Even artists themselves often struggle with articulating the concepts behind their works. Various attempts over the years have been made to make art, particularly abstract modern art more intelligible, including trying to film the artist Jackson Pollock painting one of his famous 'drip' paintings from below the surface of a piece of glass. In the book Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere, the New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman adopts a different technique and actually asks prominent modern artists to talk about art in front of paintings and photographs at various museums. Not only does he ask them about their own art, but the art of others that inspired their works as well.
By using this technique, Kimmelman creates a very broad and far-reaching portrait about what high-quality modern art entails. Even highly abstract artists can be inspired by representational works, for example. Categories of art (such as modern vs. traditional) are never absolute....
First published in 1998, the book also acts as a historical treasure-trove of the thoughts of many older artists, such as the Polish-French artist Balthus, whose thoughts about their craft towards the end of their lives might not have survived, had not Kimmelman taken the time to interview them for posterity.
The irreverence of some modern artists can be amusing, such as when the photorealist artist Chuck Close discusses his disdain for Renoir which he regards as kitschy, like something you would see in an Italian restaurant. Close, who was paralyzed as a result of a spinal collapse was forced to completely change the way he created art after he lost fine motor dexterity in his hands. Close adapted his technique to his disability, including strapping brushes onto his hands, but in his discussions with Kimmelman, he ruefully expresses his frustration with the fact that he cannot mimic the work of the painters he really loves and admires, who retained their fine motor coordination until the very ends of their lives.
Over the course of the book, Kimmelman conducts sixteen interviews with eighteen artists in total (two interviews are with married artists as couples). Most of the artists choose to tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Kimmelman while others choose the Modern or museums closer to their country of origin. The British painter Francis Bacon, for example, makes…
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