Thursday, June 03, 2010

The American Painter Emma Dial

I picked up The American Painter Emma Dial on our trip to South Beach about a month ago. It caught my eye because I'd heard some buzz about it in Chicago and the author, Samantha Peale, went to The School of the Art Institute (Hey! So did *I*, and yet, I remain an unpublished author.)

It's not exactly a "beach" book - it requires a bit of high-functioning brain activity, exploring the idea of The Artist, creativity, and ownership. Emma Dial is an assistant to a famous (fictional) artist, Michael Freiburg. Freiburg describes his paintings to Dial who executes them flawlessly while he takes all the credit for the work. Some readers might be surprised to hear about this type of relationship in the contemporary artist's studio, as we live in an age that identifies with the art hero as, specifically a solo genius. Of course, it's not unusual for many of today's artists to work as a team. What's interesting is that Dial doesn't seem to resent the fact that her work is identified as her boss's, merely that she isn't given more credit, and also that, as she spends all her creative time creating his art, she has no time or energy left over for her own.

While the book reads like an insider's view of the art world, the themes easily appeal to anyone whose creative work suffers while working for the man.

Peale's writing style is straight-forward, sometimes startlingly so. She writes, "We lay close. He wiped his dick on the sheet, drew me to him, with his arm across my shoulders." Ewww. I appreciated what she didn't describe. Mainly: the art, which allowed me to imagine the paintings as I chose. (For me, something akin to Gerhard Richter.)

Peale herself worked in the studio of Jeff Koons and the "Reading Group Guide Interview", normally ignored but in this case interesting, contained some fascinating tidbits about her own experience as an artist's assistant. But those looking for a roman à clef are apparently misguided. "When I worked for Jeff Koons he encouraged me to do my own work." says Peale. "He always had the time and interest to find out what I was up to and serve up some uncanny insight."

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