The Painted Word and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

The Painted Word
 
 


or
Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Start reading The Painted Word on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

The Painted Word [Paperback]

Tom Wolfe
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)

List Price: $14.00
Price: $11.71 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
You Save: $2.29 (16%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
Only 11 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
Want it Monday, Aug. 4? Choose One-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
‹  Return to Product Overview

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1975, after having put radical chic and '60s counterculture to the satirical torch, Tom Wolfe turned his attention to the contemporary art world. The patron saint (and resident imp) of New Journalism couldn't have asked for a better subject. Here was a hotbed of pretension, nitwit theorizing, social climbing, and money, money, money--all Wolfe had to do was sharpen his tools and get to work. He did! Much of The Painted Word is a superb burlesque on that modern mating ritual whereby artists get to despise their middle-class audience and accommodate it at the same time. The painter, Wolfe writes, "had to dedicate himself to the quirky god Avant-Garde. He had to keep one devout eye peeled for the new edge on the blade of the wedge of the head on the latest pick thrust of the newest exploratory probe of this fall's avant-garde Breakthrough of the Century.... At the same time he had to keep his other eye cocked to see if anyone in le monde was watching."

The other bone Wolfe has to pick is with the proliferation of art theory, particularly the sort purveyed by postwar colossi like Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, and Leo Steinberg. Decades after the heyday of abstract expressionism, these guys make pretty easy targets. What could be more absurd, after all, than endless Jesuitical disputes about the flatness of the picture plane? So most of them get a highly comical spanking from the author. It's worth pointing out, of course, that Wolfe paints with a broad (as it were) brush. If he's skewering the entire army of artistic pretenders in a single go, there's no room to admit that Jasper Johns or Willem DeKooning might actually have some talent. But as he would no doubt admit, The Painted Word isn't about the history of art. It's about the history of taste and middlebrow acquisition--and nobody has chronicled these two topics as hilariously or accurately as Tom Wolfe. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"If you have ever stared uncomprehendingly at an abstract painting that admired critics have said you ought to dig, take heart. Tom Wolfe . . . is on your side. The Painted Word may enrage you. It may confirm your darkest suspicions about Modern Art. In any case, it will amuse you."--New York Sunday News

"Tom Wolfe is a journalist who always manages to combine an encyclopedic store of inside knowledge with the obstinate detachment of a visitor from Mars, not to mention a brilliant style and incisive wit."--San Francsico Chronicle

"The Painted Word may well be Tom Wolfe's most successful piece of social criticism to date."--The New York Times

"The Painted Word is a masterpiece. No one in the art world . . . could fail to recognize its essential truth. I read it four times, each of them with mounting envy for Wolfe's eye, ear, and surgical skill."--The Washington Post

"His eye and ear for detailed observations are incomparable; and observation is to the satirist what bullets are to a gun."--The Boston Sunday Globe

About the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One
 
The Apache Dance

ALL THE MAJOR MODERN MOVEMENTS EXCEPT FOR DE STIJL, Dada, Constructivism, and Surrealism began before the First World War, and yet they all seem to come out of the 1920s. Why? Because it was in the 1920s that Modern Art achieved social chic in Paris, London, Berlin, and New York. Smart people talked about it, wrote about it, enthused over it, and borrowed from it. Borrowed from it, as I say; Modern Art achieved the ultimate social acceptance: interior decorators did knock-offs of it in Belgravia and the sixteenth arrondissement.

Things like knock-off specialists, money, publicity, the smart set, and Le Chic shouldn’t count in the history of art, as we all know—but, thanks to the artists themselves, they do. Art and fashion are a two-backed beast today; the artists can yell at fashion, but they can’t move out ahead. That has come about as follows:

By 1900 the artist’s arena—the place where he seeks honor, glory, ease, Success—had shifted twice. In seventeenth century Europe the artist was literally, and also psychologically, the house guest of the nobility and the royal court (except in Holland); fine art and court art were one and the same. In the eighteenth century the scene shifted to the salons, in the homes of the wealthy bourgeoisie as well as those of aristocrats, where Culture-minded members of the upper classes held regular meetings with selected artists and writers. The artist was still the Gentleman, not yet the Genius. After the French Revolution, artists began to leave the salons and join cénacles, which were fraternities of like-minded souls huddled at some place like the Café Guerdons rather than a town house; around some romantic figure, an artist rather than a socialite, someone like Victor Hugo, Charles Nosier, Théophile Gautier, or, later, Edouard Manet. What held the cénacles together was that merry battle spirit we have all come to know and love: épatez la bourgeoisie, shock the middle class. With Gautier’s cénacle especially . . . with Gautier’s own red vests, black scarves, crazy hats, outrageous pronouncements, huge thirsts, and ravenous groin . . . the modern picture of The Artist began to form: the poor but free spirit, plebeian but aspiring only to be classless, to cut himself forever free from the bonds of the greedy and hypocritical bourgeoisie, to be whatever the fat burghers feared most, to cross the line wherever they drew it, to look at the world in a way they couldn’t see, to be high, live low, stay young forever—in short, to be the bohemian.

By 1900 and the era of Picasso, Braque & Co., the modern game of Success in Art was pretty well set. As a painter or sculptor the artist would do work that baffled or subverted the cozy bourgeois vision of reality. As an individual—well, that was a bit more complex. As a bohemian, the artist had now left the salons of the upper classes—but he had not left their world. For getting away from the bourgeoisie there’s nothing like packing up your paints and easel and heading for Tahiti, or even Brittany, which was Gauguin’s first stop. But who else even got as far as Brittany? Nobody. The rest got no farther than the heights of Montmartre and Montparnasse, which are what?—perhaps two miles from the Champs Elysées. Likewise in the United States: believe me, you can get all the tubes of Winsor & Newton paint you want in Cincinnati, but the artists keep migrating to New York all the same . . . You can see them six days a week . . . hot off the Carey airport bus, lined up in front of the real-estate office

on Broome Street in their identical blue jeans, gum boots, and quilted Long March jackets . . . looking, of course, for the inevitable Loft . . .

No, somehow the artist wanted to remain within walking distance . . . He took up quarters just around the corner from . . . lemonde, the social sphere described so well by Balzac, the milieu of those who find it important to be in fashion, the orbit of those aristocrats, wealthy bourgeois, publishers, writers, journalists, impresarios, performers, who wish to be "where things happen," the glamorous but small world of that creation of the nineteenth-century metropolis, tout le monde, Everybody, as in "Everybody says". . . the smart set, in a phrase . . . "smart," with its overtones of cultivation as well as cynicism.

The ambitious artist, the artist who wanted Success, now had to do a bit of psychological double-tracking. Consciously he had to dedicate himself to the antibourgeois values of the cénacles of whatever sort, to bohemia, to the Bloomsbury life, the Left Bank life, the Lower Broadway Loft life, to the sacred squalor of it all, to the grim silhouette of the black Reorig Lower Manhattan truck-route internal combustion granules that were already standing an eighth of an inch thick on the poisoned roach carcasses atop the electric hot-plate burner by the time you got up for breakfast . . . Not only that, he had to dedicate himself to the quirky god Avant-Garde. He had to keep one devout eye peeled for the new edge on the blade of the wedge of the head on the latest pick thrust of the newest exploratory probe of this fall’s avant-garde Breakthrough of the Century . . . all this in order to make it, to be noticed, to be counted, within the community of artists themselves. What is more, he had to be sincere about it. At the same time he had to keep his other eye cocked to see if anyone in le monde was watching. Have they noticed me yet? Have they even noticed the new style (that me and my friends are working in)? Don’t they even know about Tensionism (or Slice Art or Niho or Innerism or Dimensional Creamo or whatever)? (Hello, out there!) . . . because as every artist knew in his heart of hearts, no matter how many times he tried to close his eyes and pretend otherwise (History! History!—where is thy salve? ), Success was real only when it was success within lemonde.

He could close his eyes and try to believe that all that mattered was that he knew his work was great . . . and that other artists respected it . . . and that History would surely record his achievements . . . but deep down he knew he was lying to himself. I want to be a Name, goddamn it!—at least that, a name, a name on the lips of the museum curators, gallery owners, collectors, patrons, board members, committee members, Culture hostesses, and their attendant intellectuals and journalists and their Time and Newsweek—all right!—even that!—Time and Newsweek— Oh yes! (ask the shades of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko!)—even the goddamned journalists!

During the 1960s this entire process by which le monde, the culturati, scout bohemia and tap the young artist for Success was acted out in the most graphic way. Early each spring, two emissaries from the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller, would head downtown from the Museum on West Fifty-third Street, down to Saint Marks Place, Little Italy, Broome Street and environs, and tour the loft studios of known artists and unknowns alike, looking at everything, talking to one and all, trying to get a line on what was new and significant in order to put together a show in the fall . . . and, well, I mean, my God—from the moment the two of them stepped out on Fifty-third Street to grab a cab, some sort of boho radar began to record their sortie . . . They’re coming! . . . And rolling across Lower Manhattan, like the Cosmic Pulse of the theosophists, would be a unitary heartbeat:

Pick me pick me pick me pick me pick me pick me pick me . . . O damnable Uptown!

By all means, deny it if asked!—what one knows, in one’s cheating heart, and what one says are two different things!

So it was that the art mating ritual developed early in the century—in Paris, in Rome, in London, Berlin, Munich,

Vienna, and, not too long afterward, in New York. As we’ve just seen, the ritual has two phases:

(1) The Boho Dance, in which the artist shows his stuff within the circles, coteries, movements, isms, of the home neighborhood, bohemia itself, as if he doesn’t care about anything else; as if, in fact, he has a knife in his teeth against the fashionable world uptown.

(2) The Consummation, in which culturati from that very same world, le monde, scout the various new movements and new artists of bohemia, select those who seem the most exciting, original, important, by whatever standards—and shower them with all the rewards of celebrity.

By the First World War the process was already like what in the Paris clip joints of the day was known as an apache dance. The artist was like t he female in t he act, stamping her feet, yelling defiance one moment, feigning indifference the next, resisting the advances of her pursuer with absolute contempt . . . more thrashing about . . . more rake-a-cheek fury . . . more yelling and carrying on . . . until finally with one last mighty and marvelously ambiguous shriek—pain! ecstasy!—she submits . . . Paff paff paff paff paff. . . How you do it, my boy! . . . and the house lights rise and Everyone, tout le monde, applauds . . .

The artist’s payoff in this ritual is obvious enough. He stands to gain precisely what Freud says are the goals of the artist: fame, money, and beautiful lovers. But what about le monde, the culturati, the social members of the act? What’s in it for them? Part of their reward is t he ancient and semi-sacred status of Benefactor of the Arts. The arts have always been a doorway into Society, and in the largest cities today the arts—the museum boards, arts councils, fund drives, openings, parties, committee meetings—have completely replaced the churches...

From AudioFile

Wolfe's essay ridicules the wide-spread influence of a few elite art critics upon contemporary art. Wolfe contends that someday their theories will be regarded as the works of art and the paintings and sculptures as illustrations of them. In this reading Harold N. Cropp shows consider-able artistry. He conveys erudition while maintaining a youthful, hip vivacity. Cropp may be too restrained to consistently capture Wolfe's relentless, derisive edge, but he does give the presentation the proper cynical slant and moves it along crisply. D.J. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‹  Return to Product Overview