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The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  1,994 ratings  ·  77 reviews
A New York Times bestseller—a dazzling and inspirational survey of how art can be found and appreciated in everyday life

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 arti
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 25th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
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Aug 05, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Rick Scott
Shelves: art
This was a little better than I expected. While it didn't achieve greatness, it avoided that lazy, thrown-together feel that similar slim, ruminative books often have. Kimmelman has always struck me as a very likable, humane critic, and his text here reinforces that. I would have liked to see better cover art. Instead of the stock photo of a gumball machine on the back (an echo of the chapter on Wayne Thiebaud and his gumball machine paintings), why not an actual piece of art?

The strongest chapt
This is maybe the third time I tried to start this essay collection, and I'm so happy I finally got past the first one. I get why it's placed first, but the rest of the pieces are SO much better. Genuinely well-written, meticulously researched (often hands-on), and wonderfully woven. I don't know that there's anything exceptionally new said here, but half the pleasure of an essay is the structure, and most of the other half is the weird shit you learn on the journey to the point, so it's all goo ...more
Not every aspect of this book is perfect. There are some chapters that are less interesting or compelling than others. But overall, this is a gem and a complete surprise. The book is about art and the comfort it can give, not just to the viewer, but to the artists making it. Yet this description is not enough - it also explains art that most do not consider beautiful, or consider in any way: it explains where the artist is coming from, why the creator has chosen this subject to devote all of her ...more
Christine Henry
This slim book is a fabulous collection of meditations on the art that surrounds us everyday. Written by Michael Kimmelman, art critic for the New York Times, it is a collection of essays on paintings, sculpture, etc that is perceived as Art, and the process of looking at our lives and the lives of others as being artful. One of his underlying themes is the importance of passion in creating art. That passion can be in the form of collecting an example of every light bulb known to exist and shari ...more
Mikey B.
Nicely written book

This book is not about art per se, but more about how art came about. I enjoyed in particular the chapters on collecting and Antarctica. Collecting led to museums and what went into them (art). Antarctica was about travel photography and how the photographs taken there are now a part of our historical memory.

What is particularly nice is how non-judgmental the author is - this adds value to every chapter and the various types of art represented.

In the last chapter Michael K
Apr 15, 2012 Pollopicu rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Some mildly interesting essays on the place of art in life and the life of particular artists; most of these were artists I'd already heard of or seen works by, so the essays weren't particularly edifying. If you make art or have any appreciation of it, these essays will probably seem a bit simplistic to you as well. I can't think of an appropriate audience for this book other than perhaps those people who see artists as weird outsiders or snobs, and who see art as a waste of time (and I don't p ...more
Reading this book felt like I had walked into the middle of someone else's conversation, and while I understood everything that was being said I had missed the context and purpose. I kept wondering what the point was. I also found myself wishing it was either more - a full art history analysis - or less - a short article in a magazine.
"It almost seems odd to talk about the sublime today. We are programmed now to expect awe in certain circumstances, and are therefore doomed to be disappointed when, inevitably, we don't feel it. It is the disappointment that many tourists experience when they go see the Mona Lisa, a sublime painting, encased behind protective glass. This is because when nothing is truly strange or foreign any longer, everything having been predigested, we then demand to be shocked, shock being an experience tha ...more
This probably isn't the best book about art ever written, but it's by far the best one I've ever read. Michael Kimmelman is quite simply a fantastic writer, and his unexpectedly wonderful book is deceptively short for being so well-researched.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Kimmelman's fellow New York Times critic, the food writer Michael Pollan. Their styles are so similar, with their spare but eloquent writing, their love of historical and observational curiosities, and their deeply h
A fun read. Michael Kimmelman offers ten essays here that explore people who get lost in the details and routine of their lives. Their attention to detail elevates their work to something artful.

Treat yourself. An essay now, an essay later. Amateurism, serendipity, collecting as a creative endeavor, the art of the pilgrimage. The title of each essay begins with this phrase: "The Art of …".

I would enjoy reading an eleventh essay by him, "The Art of the Ephemeral." And by that I mean the masterpie
Kimmelman is an art critic for the New York Times, and The Accidental Masterpiece collects some of his essays – interestingly enough, not all about art and artists. At least, not directly. Indeed, if there is a single theme running through these essays, it is obsession. The first essay is about Bonnard, but more specifically, it is about his obsession with his wife Marthe. Later in the book, we encounter an essay on a man who collected lightbulbs – by the time he passed away in 2002, his self-c ...more
"We can learn, among other things, that a life lived with art in mind might itself be a kind of art." (3)

"But having spent much of my own life looking at it, I have come to feel that everything, even the most ordinary daily affair, is enriched by the lessons that can be gleaned from art: that beauty is often where you don't expect to find it; that it is something we may discover and also invent, then reinvent, for ourselves; that the most important things in the world are never as simple as they
Eveline Chao
I loved the first essay in this SO much that it made all the other ones pale in comparison. For that reason, it's hard for me to figure out how much I liked this book overall.

I guess I would say that judging it as a *book* I thought that some of the essays could have been organized a tiny bit better and that I wish the writer gave us just a tad bit more of himself. There's something a little bit removed about his tone, somehow, even in scenes where he's actually there IN the scene speaking abou
Lake Lady
Rarely do I read a book and think, "I'm looking forward to rereading this one". There's a lot of food for thought in between the covers of this book and mostly presented in an intelligent and slightly unusual narrative. If you have any interest in the arts, in creativity in general, or in aesthetics I highly recommend reading this little gem. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Kimmelman is one of the most likable, curious, open-minded art-writers we have. Instead of a pretentious reviewer, he's a discusser, and discusses some great topics: Bob Ross and amateurism, a guy who has collected thousands of light bulbs, how what we find beautiful is often a conditioned response, Albert C. Barnes (a guy who made a fortune on antiseptic, spend the fortune on famous and unfamous art, and left it all to a school when he died), the value of originals in a time of mass reproductio ...more
Boy oh boy, did I heart this book. Written by the chief art critic for the New York Times, it is less an examination of art than an examination of how to live artistically. The chapters cover a variety of topics, including the lives of particular artists and the latent art that suffuses compulsive collecting (my favorite!).

Mainly, I loved it because it is more inspirational that any self-declared inspirational text. Seeing how others view art as life and life as art made me want to run out and t
Nicholas A.
Aug 31, 2007 Nicholas A. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Life Livers
When asked "What do you do for a living?", I tend to answer "I live." As pompous as this sounds, I derived this answer here from Kimmleman's mind altering book.

To be be creative, or to live a life of art - one does not need to pursue it as a career or even participate in creative endeavors. Rather, life itself is an art form.

"We can learn, that a life lived with art in mind might itself be a kind of art." - Kimmelman

"The Beatiful Is a Promise of Happiness" - Stendhal

Basic Reasons to Make Art:

Charming, well-written, non-flashy non-fiction. I wanted more illustrations -- I kept stopping reading to look up artworks on my phone.
Ruth Charchian
This is a terrific book on all aspects of different types of art. It is provocative especially in the beginning. He discusses "what is beauty." I wrote a whole three pages after thinking about this question he posed. I would never have thought about some of the types of art he brings into the forground. We tend to think of paintings hung on the wall, or sculpture in a garden. He discusses collections and why people collect...just because they have a passion/obsession for an object he concludes. ...more
i like it when books i'm reading seem to mirror life. I read this coincident to a roadtrip in the southwest. "The Art of Having a Lofty Perspective" -- chapter three, essay on the fluctuating opinion in art's history on whether or not nature is beautiful -- came fantastically timed after a rainy, miserable, questionably worth-it scenic mountain hike in Zion. "The Art of the Pilgrimage" spanned the few days driving between Marfa, TX and Walter de Maria's Lightning Field.

It's well written (author
Jacquelyn Moses
Totally inspiring! I love being reminded to look at the beauty and passion of others as art.
Donna Pelley
Interesting. Kimmelman presents the work and lives of various modern artists and collectors in a very accessible, story-telling fashion. Many of the artists detailed were previously unknown to me and I found myself googling their art to learn more. I am always pleased when a resource propels me off in other directions.
it was cute i guess
I read a recent review of this book, which deemed it a classic, and thought it would be interesting. I found the first chapter kind of tedious, and decided to give up on it. Before writing this review, though, i looked at other readers reviews of it - and most of the reviews were very positive. Oh well - there are just too many other books to experience, so I will leave with the distinct impression that i really didn't give it a chance and it probably is a great book. Just not my cup of tea.
This was such a fun, meandering meditation on art. Other critics praise Kimmelman for making connections between seemingly disparate artists and themes, and I agree. Like a skilled visual artist, Kimmelman made me feel at ease following him through the sometimes hard to follow conduit of his vision, and the results were rewarding. If you're looking for something not overly dense, dry or epic to read about art, this is a great choice; I know I'll use this as a gateway for further reading.
Oct 05, 2008 Colleen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: art geeks
Shelves: art
It's not exactly a wildly entertaining and riveting book, but as an art nerd I was really interested in some of the author's essays. Being essays on an array of topics, they weren't all my cup of tea, but a lot of them were great. If you are interested in art, and specifically modern/contemporary art, then its work picking this up. You have to commit to the first essay, but once you get into Kimmelman and his point of view, then most of the other essays are a lot more fun to read.
Samantha Alfrey
Kimmelman discusses everything from French post-impressionism to Medieval German altarpiece to earth art to gumball machines, and how it is possible to find beauty everywhere you look. He believes art will teach you how to open your eyes and look more closely at your personal environment. It is one of the most refreshing reads by a very positive author who believes in the power of art and how your personal interpretation adds to a work.
Amy Talluto
This is a fabulously engaging read, and is more of a stream-of-consciousness easy-reading novel than a collection of art essays. The author is interested in not only established High Art works, but is also interested in everything from the eccentric light bulb collector to the Victorian era arctic expedition photographer. He unravels and contextualizes artists' motivations by telling their stories simply, with ease and humor.
I am reading this for book club - it's fascinating. The author looks at art by asking the question, "What ISN'T art?" and exploring the worlds of art history, artists, collectors, etc. I've read the 1st 4 chapters.

I finished this book and we discussed it in book club. We had a very good discussion about it and I learned a lot. I particularly liked the chapter on Bonnard and his life and painting.
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“Art provides us with clues about how to live our lives more fully...about how creating, collecting, and even just appreciating art can make daily living a masterpiece.” 1 likes
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