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The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa Hardcover – August 18, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thechief art critic of the New York Times, Kimmelman (Portraits) delivers an uplifting art-is-good-for-you message that is surprisingly easy to swallow. Intelligent but not obscure, warm but not intrusively personal, Kimmelman manages in 10 chapters to cover a lot of ground, with a working definition of "art" that goes far beyond what's found in galleries and museums. The reader encounters not only the likes of Pierre Bonnard and Matthew Barney but Hugh Francis Hicks, a serious collector of lightbulbs, and Frank Hurley, whose miraculously preserved images of the 1914 Antarctic Endurance expedition are as haunting as any "art." This is Kimmelman's point: though passionately concerned with "gallery" art, he is more concerned with the rewards of aesthetic experience, how the attentiveness we bring to art can help to make a "daily masterpiece" of ordinary life. Kimmelman's enthusiasm is infectious; he has an impressive ability to incorporate recent artistic trends into his argument; the chapter on "The Art of the Pilgrimage," for instance, discusses the earth art of Michael Heizer and the minimalism of Donald Judd with a clarity that doesn't shortchange the work's difficulty. If Proust can change your life, so can Bonnard. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

As chief art critic for the New York Times, Kimmelman has developed a relaxed and welcoming approach to explicating art that makes this aptly unpredictable consideration of the role accidents and serendipity play in the making of art as pleasurable as it is enlightening. Kimmelman is interested in "how art transforms lives," and in how a life lived artistically can itself be seen as a masterpiece, and the examples he cites open up many new vistas of thought. He reflects on how Pierre Bonnard transformed his "circumscribed world" into a "fantastical" realm through sustained contemplation. He profiles Charlotte Salomon, whose remarkable painted diary survived after she perished in the Holocaust, and Jay DeFeo, who worked for decades on one colossal painting known as The Rose. Kimmelman celebrates the snapshot as a great source for accidental masterpieces, and pays fresh tribute to Chardin and Wayne Thiebaud, painters who discern the "dignity" of ordinary things and the art of everyday life. And Kimmelman himself, a receptive and creative observer, turns criticism into story, thus making art out of thought. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200556
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200557
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 86 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A friend of mine purchased this book, and I picked it up from her table to read the first page, and found that I simply could not put it down. 'The Art of Life and Vice Versa', the subtitle said - something I have long aspired to understand is the interplay of art and life in its many facets and influences. According to author Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic for the New York Times and frequent author on art and cultural topics, studying art and those who devote themselves to art 'provides us with clues about how to live our own lives more fully.' Living, according to Kimmelman, can be a 'daily masterpiece' for each of us - we needed be a technical genius such as Picasso to be able to live our lives artistically. One of Kimmelman's early examples is of the dentist Hugh Francis Hicks, whose home was a makeshift lightbulb museum (with more than 75,000 lightbulbs in his collection from all manner of times, places and devices). This is not mere enthusiasm, but an abiding love that made his interest a matter of art.

One of Kimmelman's intentions here, which he has achieved, was not to confront or approach art from the standpoint of an art critic, an art historian, or even as a professional artist, but rather as an amateur - an amateur being that one who does it for the love of it. In this, Kimmelman has produced a text that is readily accessible to those with no particular training or background in the visual arts, but who can nonetheless come to appreciate more fully and profoundly the impact of art on those who engage in it.
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn Minden on September 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has changed my life! Mr. Kimmelman's urbane discussions have enhanced my understanding of the impulse behind my own enthusiasm for objects and arrangements and for the place of art in my life. I wish I had had the book years ago.

Mr. Kimmelman has a superb, almost magical talent for transporting a reader to places and people he has visited as well as to times when his imagination -- informed by an encyclopedic knowledge of writers past and present -- fills in the gaps.

He takes us to a painter's studio darkened by black curtains where Philip Pearlstein transforms models into geometrical compositions; on an exhausting climb up Cezanne's Montagne Sainte-Victoire, where, to his chagrin, he finds a group of elderly French ladies there before him; for an early-morning walk with Pierre Bonnard at his home in southern France, where he lives with an impossible wife; to Antarctica with Frank Hurley, the fearless Australian photographer who captured the romance of the cold south when he sailed with Shackleton on the Endurance; on a near-death experience in Utah, where he had gone to visit a Matthew Barney sculpture in the salt flats in the winter and found himself in chest-high icy water in total darkness after volunteering to find help when car and cell phone failed.

Chapter titles provide clues to how he makes the art experience apparent, i.e., The Art of Making Art Without Lifting a Finger, The Art of Collecting Light Bulbs, The Art of Maximizing Your Time, The Art of Having a Lofty Perspective, The Art of Finding Yourself When You're Lost. As for the last, this book has made me feel "found". I have heard many lectures by eminent art historians--among them Erwin Panofsky at Princeton and Seymour Slive at Harvard--yet not until I read Mr.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Montemarano on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Pure pleasure. Much of what Kimmelman writes about visual art also applies to writing (I'm a writer), & I found this inspiring. The chapters about Pierre Bonnard (his artistic & personal obsession with his wife, Marthe), Frank Hurley (his sometimes egocentric obsession with capturing the spectacle of Shackleton's Arctic exploration, even when faced with hellish conditions), & Philip Pearlstein (his obsession with routine; his commitment to work even when it isn't going well; his belief that one should "look slowly & hard at something subtle & small") are particularly wonderful. I especially appreciate Kimmelman's description of Pearlstein's process, from the beginning to the end of one of his paintings. This gem of a book reminds us to see again -- as if for the first time. I recommend "The Accidental Masterpiece" for anyone who creates, collects, or appreciates art, in any of its sometimes surprising forms. And even if you don't think the previous sentence applies to you, you'll change your mind after reading this book, which is never pretentious but always smart. One final note: Kimmelman's writing -- his prose -- is excellent. Clear & pleasing to my ear.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Michael Kimmelman has succeeded in creating a much-needed bridge between artist and public in his wondrous book of essays THE ACCIDENTAL MASTERPIECE: ON THE ART OF LIFE AND VICE VERSA. For those whose lives are spent making art, critiquing art, selling art, exhibiting art, or writing about art, Kimmelman puts the emotional drive into words and in doing so, opens windows of understanding better many other writers today. He is able to explain the unexplainable simply by stepping outside the circle of rarity that too often cocoons art, keeping non-artists at an unfortunate distance.

In this group of immensely readable essays Kimmelman surveys ideas about such artists as Vermeer, Duchamps, Donald Judd, James Turrell, Wayne Thiebaud, Chardin, and Matthew Barney - to give an idea of the spectrum of thoughts! Yet he also is in praise of the all but unknown artist Bob Ross who spoke to more Americans about the enrichment painting can bring into the senses in his television series 'The Joy of Painting', a didactic but infectious course in the magic of brush, paint and observation. It is that kind of equality that makes Kimmelman so effective. He takes us from starchy museum or sterile gallery and lifts from those encounters the communication art creates. And that most important of all aspects of looking at art or learning about art is of course altering the way we perceive our world. For Kimmelman our world is our canvas and his drive is to bring the reader into that ethereal field of true observation and experience that will enhance our quality of artful living. 'Art provides us with clues about how to live our own lives more fully...art becomes our entree to the sublime.'

For the art aficionado or the novice this is a book worth the read and even more worth the absorption.
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