Michael Kimmelman, the prominent New York Times writer and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, is known as a deep and graceful writer across the disciplines of art and music and also as a pianist who understands something about the artist’s sensibility from the inside. Readers have come to expect him not only to fill in their knowledge about art but also to inspire them to think about connections between art and the larger world – which is to say, to think more like an artist. Kimmelman’s many years of contemplating and writing about art have brought him to this wise, wide-ranging, and long-awaited book.
It explores art as life’s great passion, revealing what we can learn of life through pictures and sculptures and the people who make them. It assures us that art – points of contact with the exceptional that are linked straight to the heart – can be found almost anywhere and everywhere if only our eyes are opened enough to recognize it. Kimmelman regards art, like all serious human endeavors, as a passage through which a larger view of life may come more clearly into focus. His book is a kind of adventure or journey.
It carries the message that many of us may not yet have learned how to recognize the art in our own lives. To do so is something of an art itself. A few of the characters Kimmelman describes, like Bonnard and Chardin, are great artists. But others are explorers and obscure obsessives, paint-by-numbers enthusiasts, amateur shutterbugs, and collectors of strange odds and ends. Yet others, like Charlotte Solomon, a girl whom no one considered much of an artist but who secretly created a masterpiece about the world before her death in Auschwitz, have reserved spots for themselves in history, or not, with a single work that encapsulates a whole life.
Kimmelman reminds us of the Wunderkammer, the cabinet of wonders – the rage in seventeenth-century Europe and a metaphor for the art of life. Each drawer of the cabinet promises something curious and exotic, instructive and beautiful, the cabinet being a kind of ideal, self-contained universe that makes order out of the chaos of the world. The Accidental Masterpiece is a kind of literary Wunderkammer, filled with lively surprises and philosophical musings. It will inspire readers to imagine their own personal cabinet of wonders.
“Michael Kimmelman writes that ‘the world is full of amazing surprises.’ As it happens, this book is one of them. Knowledgeable, charming, thoughtful, lucid, unpretentious writing about art? A critic who actually leaves his room and comes back with stories about interesting people and places in the real world? And if that weren’t amazing and surprising enough, Kimmelman is on an earnest old-school quest, determined to convince us (in his charming and unpretentious way) that modern art is not a cynical game, that we can glimpse all kinds of improbable marvels and wonders in all sorts of places if we take the time to look and feel and think. I am grateful for The Accidental Masterpiece.” —Kurt Anderson, New York Times–bestselling writer and host of the Peabody–winning radio program Studio 360
“I get more from reading Michael Kimmelman—the dry wit, the elegant conviviality of tone, the broad range and the underlying toughness of judgment—than from any art critic writing now. He really knows art and, what’s more, really enjoys it. And he brings that enjoyment to the reader in a way that you can’t fail to share. He’s neither a jargoneer nor an art world nerd: He is deeply immersed in life, its pleasures, and the winding, unexpected ways in which art puts you in touch with both. Chapeau!” —Robert Hughes, awarding-winning art critic, writer, and director
“Michael Kimmelman, one of the most brilliant and sensitive critics of our time, in this book presents a surprisingly refreshing view of art and artists. From the beginning to the end, he exercises his wry sense of humor to explain something that is deeply insightful of our culture. His book shows how you may be an artist too, without even knowing. Read, and see yourself in this mirror of our contemporary and future society. You’ll love it.” —Yoko Ono
The Art of Making a World
The Art of Being Artless
The Art of Having a Lofty Perspective
The Art of Making Art Without Lifting a Finger
The Art of Collecting Lightbulbs
The Art of Maximizing Your Time
The Art of Finding Yourself When You’re Lost
The Art of Staring Productively at Naked Bodies
The Art of the Pilgrimage
The Art of Gum-Ball Machines, and Other Simple Pleasures