Archive for category Subject: Culture

A Year In The Art World || Matthew Israel

An account of what goes on inside the world of art business is always going to be interesting, but the question is: for who? Is it those insiders themselves, who will probably enjoy critiquing someone else’s view? Or maybe they’ll value an insight into what everyone else involved does, assuming they don’t know that already. How about the investor? They, especially if they’re just getting a toehold, would certainly benefit from a who-does-what guide, particularly if it also covers who’s-most-likely-to-rip-me-off. Artists themselves might like that, too. But the general reader, that wider public outside the specialist market? Nope, unless it’s written like a thriller, which this isn’t.

So, this is something very niche and we can at least be grateful that the author has taken the trouble to address his specialised audience directly, rather than trying (probably in vain) to widen the appeal. I’m a bit concerned by the strapline under Matthew Israel’s name on the cover, though: “curator, artist and art historian”. If his is an authoritative view, wouldn’t the people the book is aimed at know him? Maybe I’m being cynical, but to me it doesn’t inspire confidence in his insider knowledge. The potted biography on the back flap gives him quite a pedigree, albeit most rather vague and some a bit peripheral.

I know that art is a business and that, once you get beyond artists’ private and small galleries and when the sums of money become eye-watering, a lot of very serious people have to be involved, but these are waters that attract sharks and are very much unsafe for the uninitiated swimmer.

So, to rein in my cynicism, let’s sum this up as thorough, generally well-researched and pitched really rather well between readability and superficiality. If you want a primer in the business of art, it’s a worthwhile starting point. Watch the beach safety flags, though.

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What is Art? || Leo Tolstoy

So, when he wasn’t busy writing War and Peace (other Russian blockbusters are available), Leo Tolstoy had opinions. His one on Shakespeare wasn’t entirely complimentary.

This comes as part of a series called Designer Classics from Roads, a small publisher I confess I wasn’t previously aware of. It turns out that our Leo was quite a thinker and wrestled with the question in the title for, it says here, 15 years. A lot of things come into it, not least religion, “All history shows that the progress of humanity is accomplished not otherwise than under the guidance of religion.” I rather feel a PhD thesis, a weighty tome and possibly a TV series in the offing there. He’s not afraid of the big stuff!

As well as this, which I’ve picked pretty much at random, Tolstoy deals with that nature of taste, value and, indeed, the nature of a cultured class. This latter does rather put him in the context of his place and time; I think today we’d be rather more dismissive. Doubtless there was a chattering class in nineteenth century Russia and, if there was, they’d have chattered in French, which probably tells you everything you need to know.

I’m not going to suggest that this is an entertaining read, not because it isn’t, but because it would be to do its author and its re-publication a disservice. It is, however, an intriguing and thought-provoking one and, to quote Laurence Sterne in a quite deliberately different context, one of the best of its kind.

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