The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa By Michael Kimmelman (2005)
Painting by Wayne Thiebauld
Chapter 10: The Art of Gum-Ball Machines, and Other Simple Pleasures
This is the final chapter in Kimmelman’s book and a good summary of the artist’s nature. He begins by contrasting the typical “harried existence” of most people which keeps them from truly seeing what’s in front of them to the existence of the artists who patiently observe and consider the world around them. For instance, Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of ordinary things, like a gumball machine, or Vincent VanGogh’s gorgeous renderings of the everyday objects and settings. There are a myriad of examples – more than I can name – of art that elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary. This is the role of the artist. Our heightened awareness and meaningful interpretations of the world as we know it serve to show others the beauty and wonder of their world as well.
Ellsworth Kelly, famous for his focus on the little details of the everyday world “tells us that the world is full of small miracles … these miracles are accessible to all of us, at almost any time, if we are just prepared to look for them." And, Marcel Proust said, “Great painters initiate us into a knowledge and love of the external world.” I think that great artists initiate us into a knowledge and love of who we are as humans – our “selves.”
What’s interesting to me is the different way in which artists express themselves: abstraction, realism, impressionism, Dadaism, “you name it”-ism. Our expressions of our perceptions take on a wide variety of forms when we commit them to a work of art. Thiebauld interprets a gumball machine one way and another artist would interpret it differently. Through our expressions, we show the rest of the world another way of seeing life. Thankfully, each artists perceives and expresses in a different way. That difference is critical to producing masterful art and is why I strongly object to art instructors who insist that students, for instance, paint a rose “this way” or a chair “that way” or a landscape using only “these colors,” etc. They behave as though there’s only one specific way to express what we see in our paintings. This serves only to suppress the mind and voice of the artist and I’m strongly opposed to it.
As Kimmelman writes “every great painter is great by his or her own terms.” We are all unique, and we should be. Vive la difference!! He writes of the Parisian artist, Chardin, who found “art in cups and saucers and in the streets, too." I disagree. I think we find art in ourselves. It is we artists who transform the ordinary into something more. This is where the "accidental masterpiece" originates.
What are your thoughts?