Monday, February 17, 2014

Book reviews are back. Book one: Bad Boy by Eric Fishl.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about each book I read that year.  I didn't do it the last year or so and I miss it.  It's nice to be able to go back and remember the books I've read, particularly since I frequently can't remember details of past reads.

So, for 2014, I'm going to return to writing posts about each book.  New for 2014, I'm going to also write posts about the audio books I listen to.  More and more I seem to be consuming spoken audio content, whether podcasts or audio books.  It's a great way to experience information in interesting ways.  I figure I might as well include audio books in the complete list of books I'll consume this year.

Also returning for 2014: THE JEFFIES!  That's right, the official Art Lobster rating system hasn't been used for quite sometime.  But it's about to return. And an updated look is in the works.

One last note before I talk about today's book.  I've decided to start 2014 off with a return to some of my interests that I might not have focused on as much in the past year.  One of those interests is the world of fine arts.  So for the next couple of months, I'm only reading books that have some element relating to art or artists.  Which is the perfect segue to this review.

The first book of 2014 is Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas by painter Eric Fischl.  This memoir co-written by Michael Stone tracks Fischl during his initial entrance into the art world and through his rise to prominence during the art world of the 70s and 80s.

I loved the opening of the book which finds the artist in a drug and alcohol fueled haze following the opening of a one-man show at New York's famed Whitney Museum of American Art.  It's an intense scene that leads the reader to believe he or she is in for a typical memoir about another "Bad Boy" artist who's life is consumed by addiction and vice.

But that's not what this book is about.  Although Fischl does have moments in his life where drugs, sex, and other vices seem to take over, he ultimately exercises control over those demons and moves on to explore more interesting tensions in his life.  The "Bad Boy" in this book is far more interesting.  Sure he questions his past and struggles to figure out how his artistic life fits into a larger narrative. Bad Boy transcends the tired cliches of the tortured artist consumed by abuse and insecurity.  This is an exploration of how an artist pushes the boundaries of expressing the human condition through art.

The book offers plenty of insight into what it takes to move the history of art forward.  Take this passage, "All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they're doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that's okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work."

Bad Boy is at its worst when Fischl repeatedly and bitterly berates the current generation of superstar artists including Jeff Koons and the Young British Artists (YBAs), from Damien Hirst to Marc Quinn.  The criticism seems disingenuous since these artists are are doing something very similar to what Fischl considers the secret to his success; breaking the rules of the art world. Fischl would have us believe that only painters (and maybe sculptors), working alone in their studios can truly create great works of art.  While I marvel at painters and their ability to move us emotionally, I don't agree with Fischl on this point.

Well written and unexpectedly engaging, this book is a great read for an art fan like me.  But with plenty of celebrity name dropping and a smart, emotional story structure, this book would be interesting to anyone who likes a good memoir.

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