Book review: Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

I checked out Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton on March 2… And, after renewing it 4 times, I finished it on May 25. I have to admit that I was overall pretty disappointed with this book. It had such potential to be a critical view of the contemporary art world– indeed, the introduction made it sound like that’s what the book was going to be– but instead, it was almost 300 pages of progressing kiss-assery that embraced the superficial players of the contemporary art world, and more specifically the art market. Admittedly, most of her subjects talk about their involvement in the art world with varying levels of amused derision, clearly aware of the ridiculousness of the decadent game they are playing. But considering that the book was published in 2008, it could have at the very least concluded with a profound statement on the excesses of the wealthy before the Great Recession (though it’s not like all of the rich people were adversely affected by the Recession– far from it). Instead, she just talked about her writing process and thanked every. single. person that she talked to for the book (except for a few  that wanted to remain anonymous). I suppose that it was too dangerous for a writer who wanted to maintain her reputation to bite the hands that fed her information for this book.

Seven Days focuses on seven aspects of the art world: art auction houses, a graduate-level art school critique at CalArts, art fairs (specifically Art Basel in Switzerland), the Turner Prize, working at Artforum, a visit to Takashi Murakami’s studio, and the Venice Biennale. While Thornton’s prose provided a gripping read, it was drenched with the pretension that one finds all too often in the art world. At times, this book was downright painful for me to read– not because it was too difficult to comprehend, but because it exposes a darker side that art history-romantics like me don’t like to think about, which is the commodification of art. Throughout her seven “days,” artworks (and artists) are continually treated like baseball cards: collectors, dealers, and curators talk about whether or not an artist, who may be red hot at the moment, will be relevant in even a couple years. Collectors trade names amongst their friends, donate money and/or lend works to museums to increase exposure, and show off their wealth and egos in auction houses to see who can outbid the other, all in an effort to build up their own collection’s monetary value and status. When you think about it, the collecting missions of the wealthy have largely dictated the major art historical record, which makes one wonder how skewed the perspectives of the various facets of art history may be. And the artists, who have signed up to be a part of this world, play along, hoping that their work will one day be memorable, if not profitable while they are still alive.  Continue reading

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WIP Wednesday: Van Gogh scarf

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Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossoms. 1890. Oil on canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Source

This one is going to be a WIP for a while. I am attempting to emulate Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms painting in a scarf which, for the moment, means that I am making a blue scarf that will eventually have lots of flower appliqués on it. The base scarf is my bus-crochet project, since I don’t have to think much about what I am doing because it is just rows of double crochet stitches. What I’m trying to decide now is how to make the flowers.

When looking at the painting, the flowers appear to be almost white; however, after doing a little research on some of the preservation issues facing many of van Gogh’s paintings for another post I wrote, I thought that maybe the blossoms had originally been pink, but the red pigment has since faded. Being as anal as I am, I had to look up what real almond blossoms look like. As you can see, they are dark pink in the center and pale pink to white in the petals. The center also has a distinct greenish, star-shaped sepal (I think that’s the sepal…) around the pistil and stamens. From what I’ve read, almond blossoms are generally white, though some can be pink.

(Apologies for the excessive use of photo filters on the collage above– apparently I am less perceptive of yellow tones when I am half asleep on the bus in the morning). I found a nice sky blue yarn at Michael’s, and last night, I experimented with four different iterations of crocheted almond blossoms (although the pattern I did a couple of variations on, which is from 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet by Leslie Stanfield, is supposed to be for a meconopsis flower). I’m thinking of going with 2 or 4 for the blossoms. 4 is slightly more work because it includes a slip stitch layer of light pink yarn on the outer edge of the fuchsia, which I have to admit is a little bit of a deterrent. I mean, I’m probably going to have to make 100 of these if I want to achieve the effect I am currently picturing, and crocheting through a slip stitch is kind of a pain. However, I feel like the fuchsia in 2 is too intense juxtaposed directly next to the white petals. I would love another opinion from anyone reading this post!

Book Review: Lust for Life by Irving Stone

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Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers. 1888. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London. Source

Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me there’s still a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings. And my mind turns in that direction as if with an irresistible urge. As time passes, other things are increasingly excluded, and the more they are the faster my eyes see the picturesque. Art demands persistent work, work in spite of everything, and unceasing observation.
– Vincent van Gogh, the Hague, on or about 21 July 1882, to Theo van Gogh (Letter #249)

It’s been a long time since a book made me cry– and I mean actually cry, not just get misty-eyed. I honestly kind of hate admitting that fact, as this book is very much an artifact of 1934 (when it was first published): while it is undoubtedly a classic, it is also a modernist (i.e. heroic and slightly masculinist) telling of the artistic life of Vincent van Gogh. Furthermore, one cannot help questioning the veracity of the biography because many parts had to be speculations by Irving Stone because of how the book is written. Nevertheless, I, like many others, am a fan of van Gogh’s work and have always been fascinated by his tragic life story. And, in all fairness, credit is due to Stone for his research of van Gogh’s 700+ letters to Theo, as well as his admission at the end of the book that some of the scenes were informed imaginings.

I’ve decided that this review is going to be not so much a full-on book review of Lust for Life, but rather several analyses of parts of the book that align with things that have been discovered about van Gogh and his work in recent years. Also, because I listened to the audiobook over the course of 3 weeks instead of physically reading it, my ability to cite specific quotes will be limited, and I apologize in advance for any discrepancies between my interpretation and the source material.  Continue reading

Book Review: Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling

Mussorgsky wrote [“Pictures at an Exhibition”] for the painter Victor Hartmann, who died young… This is the closest you can ever get to that exhibition. They say all of Hartmann’s paintings have been lost, so there is only the music.

I’ve recently taken to listening to audiobooks on my way to and from work, and a couple weeks ago, I came across 2010’s Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling, which was readily available to download from the library (related note: it was very enjoyable to hear it read by Mark Bramhall, who beautifully articulates multiple European accents and French words). Pictures at an Exhibition tells the story of Max Berenzon, a young Jewish Frenchman who desperately wants to work in his family’s prestigious art gallery in the late 1930s, and pines after the lovely assistant, Rose Clément. His father repeatedly denies him the opportunity to become a gallerist, telling him that he does not have “the hunger, the desire to hunt and chase.” Max and his family are certainly cognizant of the Nazis’ war efforts and occupations that are coming ever closer to Paris, and there are a few moments where you see them experience anti-Semitism from fellow Parisians. The war itself is largely glossed over, and before you know it, it’s 1944, and the Berenzons are returning to Paris after hiding in a farmhouse on the French countryside.  Continue reading

Mondrian-inspired scarf

16056954159_62f8e9e9af_z I must confess that, prior to making this scarf, I was pretty ambivalent to Piet Mondrian and De Stijl (the group in which Mondrian was one of the founding members) in general. At a first glance, Mondrian’s signature style– using the primary three colors (red, yellow, and blue) and primary values (white, black, and gray) in patterns of squares, rectangles, and straight lines– appears almost too simplistic. However, as I worked my way through the scarf, I grew to appreciate the purity of the colors and values, the geometry of the shapes, and the vertical and horizontal lines. But before I get to ahead of myself, the questions that must first be asked are: Who was Piet Mondrian, and what is De Stijl?  Continue reading

The Journey to Opening an Etsy Shop


Gimli, Son of Gloin (one part of the 9-piece “Fellowship” set from Lord of the Rings)

Like most creative types, I frequently feel an invisible itch in my fingers that urges me to make something: a hat, a scarf, a journal entry, a toy, a drawing. When the urge strikes, it feels like it will never be satisfied until I create something that fits my vision. And like most creative types, I’ve been like this my entire life. As a kid, I loved to draw and paint pictures of the things around me or in my head: horses, cats, castles, unicorns. My mom often enrolled me in arts and crafts classes during the summers, and it seemed like every Christmas/Easter/birthday, I got craft kits or art supplies. While I ended up getting a BFA and studied primarily printmaking and photography in college, I have grown more fond of the fiber arts in recent years because of their versatility to create more utilitarian objects, and my primary craft is crochet. Don’t get me wrong, I generally love art– I also have a Master’s in Art History and work with art every day between my two jobs– but a painting can’t keep you warm (though, arguably, the money a person can make from its sale might), and I want anything I create to be physically used.  Continue reading