"Bullshit is a preservative. There is nothing better for a reputation than a hopelessly convoluted analysis by one of the tenured gods of critical commentary."
----an excerpt from A Painter's Life, by K.B. Dixon.
I've never met Kenneth Dixon but I just finished reading a second book by him. It's not about photography, per se, but there are so many tangential tentacles... The book submerges the reader into the day to day life and thoughts of a painter named, Christopher Freeze, by way of a mix of conventional narrative, passages from Christopher Freeze's journal, and pithy, witty excerpts of reviews from critics.
Freeze grapples with issues that plague all artists: How to start. How do you know if what you are doing is any good? Where will the money come from? How to balance the time needed to create art with the time needed to actually sell enough art to have the time to do the art. Dixon's character is flawed, self-indulgent, effete, and enmeshed in a lifestyle that straddles the academic world, the art world and the small, personal world of the artist.
His characters' observation are both witty and bitchy and entertaining. It's a wonderful book to read because it's like looking into a gold fish bowl at an occupation that most of us will never understand. But at the same time photographers always seem to be grappling with the same basic issues: What is inspiration and how can I get some? Why can't I just photograph? Why do I have to waste time doing all this other stuff.
But the book is also a wry and slightly subversive tweak at the art industry, the critics, the dealers and the amateur collectors. Freeze's observations about the patrons of the gallery are wonderfully cynical...
The character, Christopher Freeze, ruminates about his relationship with his art dealer, his painter friends and rivals, and his wife.
The book is extremely well written. Not in the sense that it speeds you through a pyrotechnic plot with rampant adrenaline and harrowing twists and turns but in the sense that one really enjoys the way the words come together. His writing is both spare and elegant, and profoundly funny.
It's a book of observations. Of judgements and opinions. But mostly it's an explanation of the ongoing conflict between life and art, told with dry humor.
Two observations about Dixon's books: 1. I wish I could write even fractionally as well as Dixon. He's never obtuse or wordy. He has an economy of style that's effective and pleasurable.
2. Every time I picked up his book and read for a while I saw some of my flaws in his character and there was a sense of recognition. (Cheap therapy?) He very accurately described the split nature of an artist constantly frustrated with the need to consider the market and the need to spend time and energy in actual creation.
What resonated most for me was the underlying idea that work created for an audience, exterior to the artist, cripples the important work of the artist. Everyone makes choices and finds a balance. This book is a look at the shaky balance of one painter.
I've enjoyed Dixon's books because they reinforce ideas I like and make me feel at least minimally attached to part of a thread that runs through our culture. There's a familiarity that runs through them. Finally, the books are aimed at adults. Not that there is anything unsuitable for children but the writing speaks to people who are living adult lives. Making a living, trying desperately to do their art, trying to balance the need for a bit of isolation with the fear of being wholly forgotten.
If you want to read something fun and insightful I highly recommend it.
It's a novel.
Here's a link to Mr. Dixon's Amazon Author's page: http://www.amazon.com/K.-B.-Dixon/e/B002BRIL56/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1339559884&sr=1-2-ent