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In 1975, after having put radical chic and '60s counterculture to the satirical torch, Tom Wolfe turned his attention to the contemporary art world. The patron saint (and resident imp) of New Journalism couldn't have asked for a better subject. Here was a hotbed of pretension, nitwit theorizing, social climbing, and money, money, money--all Wolfe had to do was sharpen his tools and get to work. He did! Much of The Painted Word is a superb burlesque on that modern mating ritual whereby artists get to despise their middle-class audience and accommodate it at the same time. The painter, Wolfe writes, "had to dedicate himself to the quirky god Avant-Garde. He had to keep one devout eye peeled for the new edge on the blade of the wedge of the head on the latest pick thrust of the newest exploratory probe of this fall's avant-garde Breakthrough of the Century.... At the same time he had to keep his other eye cocked to see if anyone in le monde was watching."
The other bone Wolfe has to pick is with the proliferation of art theory, particularly the sort purveyed by postwar colossi like Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, and Leo Steinberg. Decades after the heyday of abstract expressionism, these guys make pretty easy targets. What could be more absurd, after all, than endless Jesuitical disputes about the flatness of the picture plane? So most of them get a highly comical spanking from the author. It's worth pointing out, of course, that Wolfe paints with a broad (as it were) brush. If he's skewering the entire army of artistic pretenders in a single go, there's no room to admit that Jasper Johns or Willem DeKooning might actually have some talent. But as he would no doubt admit, The Painted Word isn't about the history of art. It's about the history of taste and middlebrow acquisition--and nobody has chronicled these two topics as hilariously or accurately as Tom Wolfe. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
If you have ever stared uncomprehendingly at an abstract painting that admired critics have said you ought to dig, take heart. Tom Wolfe . . . is on your side. The Painted Word may enrage you. It may confirm your darkest suspicions about Modern Art. In any case, it will amuse you. (New York Sunday News)
Tom Wolfe is a journalist who always manages to combine an encyclopedic store of inside knowledge with the obstinate detachment of a visitor from Mars, not to mention a brilliant style and incisive wit. (San Francsico Chronicle)
The Painted Word may well be Tom Wolfe's most successful piece of social criticism to date. (The New York Times)
The Painted Word is a masterpiece. No one in the art world . . . could fail to recognize its essential truth. I read it four times, each of them with mounting envy for Wolfe's eye, ear, and surgical skill. (The Washington Post)
His eye and ear for detailed observations are incomparable; and observation is to the satirist what bullets are to a gun. (The Boston Sunday Globe)
I was talking to an artist friend of mine about selling art versus creating art and she let me know about this little gem of a book. Read morePublished on Feb. 22 2004 by R. BULL
I like to think of myself as an intelligent, discriminating person with independent views. But I have gone along with style and said things like "Cubism is clearly in a... Read morePublished on Dec 18 2003 by GEORGE R. FISHER
I've always had a fascination with highly creative people, enjoyed jazz that was ahead of its time, the things that broke the earlier bounds. Read morePublished on April 18 2002
Well, here we go - time to criticize a culture critic. Try saying that three times fast.
Anyone who knows anything about Tom Wolfe will know exactly what to expect from this... Read more
This short tract of a book sets out a single, streamlined argument: that twentieth-century art is really a series of art theories (such as Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art) as... Read morePublished on Aug. 29 2000 by Tom Adair
Art theory, literary modernism and every other pretense that dangeles in front of the contemporary art scene is laughed upon in sincere honesty by Wolfe. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2000
Artists: Are you tired of the gallery system? Tired of being told that your work won't sell, that realism is dead (killed by the camera)? Fight back -- read this book. Read morePublished on Feb. 4 2000 by A.C. Cargill
Tom Wolfe is the master of cunning expose. With history and humor he describes the New York City Art scene in the 1960s. Read morePublished on Nov. 3 1999 by Thomas Stamper
While this book is not without its moments of humor, it is obvious to art lovers that Wolfe has little idea what he is talking about. Read morePublished on Aug. 6 1999