Like most people, I really don’t know much about art. I know when I look at a painting if it moves me, and that’s the extent of it.
I do know that there are people who will pay millions of dollars for particular images, images which I”m just as happy to take a snapshot of. So I don’t know why pieces of art can be worth so much.
There’s a place where objects of beauty become something else, and that place and the culture it spawns are what Steve Martin explored in his fantastic novel “An Object of Beauty.” I actually thought the author was another Steve Martin, not the famous comedian. Finding out that Martin also writes novels made me hesitant about the book, but the casual beauty of the title meant that I was willing to give it a chance, and I’m glad I did.
The novel is a snapshot of a particular time and place: the New York art world in the mid-90s to 2008. An unreliable narrator tells the story of a woman he slept with once and remained friends with, as she ricochets upwards in a world where a piece of canvas can fetch millions.
Art dealers, collectors, and writers all have their own reasons for getting into the art world, but in the end art is about beauty. Value is, in theory, determined by beauty. That’s how it is for us laymen, at least. For people in the art scene, beauty and value have a much more complicated relationship.
Beauty is what everyone craves. We want it in our homes, our relationships, our mirrors. So what does it mean, to sell beauty? What does it matter?
I dunno. Martin doesn’t know. And the characters in “An Object of Beauty” come up with all sorts of answers.