Friday, February 26, 2010

A Painter's Life by K.B. Dixon

I really need to get myself back into the habit of reviewing books regularly and relatively soon after I finish them. It seems like lately, I keep finding ways to put reviews off that if I would just do, they would be quick and painless and a good reflection of the good books I'm reading. I do like to give myself a couple of days distance to reflect on the book I've read and see if any new insight develops, but lately those couple of days have been turning to a couple of weeks. I'm not sure why I'm having this problem, but now I've pushed myself to the limit, because I'm going on vacation very very soon, and I simply must get at least two reviewed before another week or two gets away from me! Of course, my review writing reluctance is no reflection on this or any book I've been reading which have all been pretty decent, this one included.

A Painter's Life is a review copy that the author himself sent to me. I was a little skeptical at first because it's not exactly written in a standard fashion, but as it turns out, it's an absorbing, charming little book that makes for a quick read without sacrificing depth and insight.

A Painter's Life is the story of artist Christopher Freeze as told in snippets from his journal, excerpts from his biography as told by an unsympathetic academic, as well as bits of reviews of his work. As it happens, though, it seems Freeze is not so much the focus of the book so much as his friends, his work, and his snappy inner monologue is. Freeze's journals are littered with all sorts of commentary about people and situations that rings totally true and demands to speak for itself.

I hate it when you run into someone and they tell you they think they are coming down with something because when they tell you that you have to stand there, make concerned faces, and talk to them as if nothing was wrong when what you really want to do is jump back a couple of feet and say sorry about that, but whatever it is, don't give it to me.

A Painter's Life is full of keen human insight that is so dead on that you can't help but laugh as you recognize your own more ridiculous characteristics as well as the foibles of the people you know. At the same time, it is a treatise on creativity, the fleeting nature of inspiration, and the difficulty of producing art that is personally meaningful while still being able to make a living. As if that weren't plenty of ground to cover in a book that is a mere 143 pages long, Dixon also manages to craft a bit of a satire that takes on the fine line between coherent critiques and the bizarre flights of fancy of art critics, that, if we're honest with ourselves, carries over into anyone who attempts to sit down and review something in a way that presumes to sound educated but ultimately results in reviewers floating away from any clear meaning on the sea of words they've created.

Just read a review of my new show by Roger Denby. He is a serious, heavy-duty academic writing for The Painting Experience - a man more frequently focused on bigger fish. He is obviously smart, and he cares about art - but like most of these guys, I don't think he could write a simple declarative sentence if his tenure depended on it. He's pretty good about avoiding the usual nonsense, but he is as conventional as a cop when it comes to covering his ass with equivocating qualifiers.

Dixon has an impressive grasp of human nature, a convincing view of the creative process, and a sense of humor about it all. A Painter's Life is well worth reading for anyone who has ever striven to create something of worth as well as anyone who's ever attempted to critique someone else's creation.

I'm always making notes to myself about pictures I want to paint. ... Sometimes when I'm scribbling one of these notes Sarah will interrupt with something she is thinking or reading or something that has come in the mail, and I'll say just a minute, I'm trying to write something down, but it will be too late because by the time I get back to it - one or two milliseconds later - it will be gone. Whatever it was, it will have depended on some sort of specific wording that was just being sensed - and with that specific wording gone, so too will everything else be, which, of course, is aggravating because even though I know it was probably nothing(...), it could have been something because it has been something in the past - not often, but once or twice - and this could have been one of those times, but now I'll never know.

So, now I can help but wonder if that was all coherent, or whether I'm floating away right now..... ;-)