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Lives of the Artists: Portraits of Ten Artists Whose Work and Lifestyles Embody the Future of Contemporary Art

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  341 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Whether writing about Jasper Johns or Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman or Richard Serra, Calvin Tomkins shows why it is both easier and more difficult to make art today. If art can be anything, where do you begin?

For more than three decades Calvin Tomkins’s incisive profiles in The New Yorker have given readers the most satisfying reports on contemporary art and artists available
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Mar 10, 2012 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, read-in-2012
A revealing compilation of essays on several prominent contemporary artists. I liked Tomkins' personal, conversational approach and general lack of judgment, but I would have liked a wider variety of subject matter. 10 different artists and only one woman, no people of color, and no one from outside of the American/European tradition- that seems narrow-minded to me.
Jun 30, 2009 Duc rated it really liked it
This book confirmed that Richard Serra is a total Dick head. And I mean that as a compliment to the author for making it obvious in each paragraph. If you are a great artist you too can get away with this The title borrows from the classic Giorgio Vasari's 'Lives of the Artist'. Tomkins work allows him intimate access to the house and studios of these fine artists. The writing seems less serious then Vasari's. I attempt to read it long ago but it proved to be a snooze-fest. Perhaps I'll try to r ...more
Mar 21, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing
Valuable to me for the sections about Richard Serra,
James Turrell and Jasper Johns, the three (of the ten
artists featured) who particularly intrigue me. I
skimmed the other sections with less interest, but
do consider this a useful compilation of Tomkins's
articles from the New Yorker. (I'd have called it
"Lives of Some Artists," though.)
Jan 05, 2015 Kathleen rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, biography, 2014
I know art is a state of mind, but I've had a hard time understanding conceptual art. This book shows how conceptual artists take an idea and run with it, haphazardly, skillfully, lucratively -- confidently calling their escapades art. They are artists. They make art.
Painting -- been done, done, done...sculpture from stone -- so yesterday! But hey, I've got an idea! Float a dead shark in formaldehyde ... stick a circle of dead butterflies onto the wall ... consider ways to channel the elusive e
Jan 07, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
After reading this book I have a new found appreciation for Damien Hirst, more respect for Cindy Sherman, a reaffirmation of supreme apathy for Matthew Barney, a fascination of Maurizio Cattelan, and would someone please tell Jeff Koons to go away already.
Aug 06, 2009 Lindagriggsart rated it it was amazing
An amazing book. I don't entirely understand how Calvin Tomkins got such access to the inner lives and family lives of these contemporary artists. I guess that they sense he is not going to be judgmental. In his writing he leaves it the viewer to decide about the artists motives, etc. But even when some belligerent, insecure artist is yelling at Tomkin's wife Tomkins remains objective and sensitive to the artists quirks while honestly relating the circumstances.
It's a very special book that ch
Amar Pai
Dec 27, 2011 Amar Pai rated it really liked it
I've always liked Tomkins's artist profiles for the New Yorker, so I enjoyed reading this collection of some of the more high profile ones. Damien Hirst and James Turrell seem really cool, like they'd be fun to hang out with. Richard Serra and Jasper Johns on the other hand come across as real toolboxes. Serra in particular seems like a major dick.

Oh I guess I should list who's in here

James Turrell
Jasper Johns
Matthew Barney
Cindy Sherman
some italiano whose name escapes me
Damien Hirst
Julian Schnab
Apr 28, 2014 Monica rated it it was ok
This book took me a long time to finish, since some parts of this book were more compelling than others. Many of the artists were hard to identify with on a personal level - I almost felt like Tomkins predisposed me to like or dislike the person, based on the way that he described each individual. I felt less inclined to pick up this book if I had to slog through a chapter about an artist whose personality or history was off-putting to me.

In some cases, I feel like I resonate better with the ar
Apr 08, 2016 Misha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: in-my-library
Good mix of artist interviews. Some better than others, but definitely a few gems in here.
Jun 02, 2010 Jose rated it really liked it
Interessante coleção de minibios de artistas plásticos contemporâneos.... Nada em comum entre eles, nehum destino impresso numa grande bússola, a não ser gostos por arte precoces cuja intensidade indica que são bençãos do espaço sideral.

Destacaria a minibio de John Curry como uma das mais interessantes por desenrolar as inspirações e técnicas de um artista simplesmente figurativo - tão pouco escultórico, ou criador de instalações, vídeos, filmes.... com outros...

Pode-se sentir a presença de Duch
Nov 07, 2014 Will rated it liked it
new t-shirt?


Aug 16, 2014 Connie rated it it was amazing
Deeply insightful look at great modern artists
Shurooq Amin
Jul 10, 2009 Shurooq Amin rated it it was amazing
The insight into the lives of the artists chosen for this book is valid, exciting, relevant. Though I knew about the work of - for example - James Turrell, Richard Serra, Mathew Barney - I was not prepared for the personal accounts of their everyday lives, or of how their thought process began and ended, if ever. I'm inspired by the lives of these artists and would read it again.
Andrea Paul Amboyer
Sep 01, 2009 Andrea Paul Amboyer rated it it was amazing
So I've decided to write reviews now... If you like visual art, this book is great. Especially if you are kind of curious about artists' lives and you find stories about personal journeys and coming of age extremely motivating. This book has those things. It also talks a great deal about process and media.

If you don't like visual art, I'd suggest another book.
Nov 29, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Very well-written portraits of living visual artists. It was nice to revisit some of these fascinating profiles that I originally read in the The New Yorker. Tomkins has introduced me to some artists I wasn't familiar with (or so I thought) and has caused me to seek out their work, if only out of curiosity.
Derick Van
Oct 29, 2013 Derick Van rated it really liked it
Excellent book outlining the lives of some of today's biggest artists and the way they became who they are. Very insightful and well written. As an artist living in NYC, this book opened my eyes up to a lot a new and exciting ideas. For a non artist, it might not be as compelling.
Jan 23, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Calvin Tomkins writes reviews on Art for the New Yorker. This book was a collection of previously printed articles he had done on Contemporary Modern artists. Each artist reviewed was different in their choice of medium, lifestyle, intellectual approach to art. I enjoyed this!
Jul 21, 2011 Brandon rated it really liked it
A quick overview of the lives of a number of well known (read: rich) artists. Tomkins does a good job of talking about their lives and how they live while not getting bogged down in talking about the theory of the work that they make.
Mar 02, 2010 Mary rated it it was amazing
Reading this book was like finding an old friend for me. If you have any interest in the art world, this book is full of descriptive stories that gives you incite into who the artist moving the art world today, and what moves them.
David Macpherson
Jun 10, 2010 David Macpherson rated it really liked it
Tomkis just writes so well. I love how he shows the artists. He is always kind to his subjects, that is something you have to accept going in, but the vivd details are so amazing. Just love this writer
Apr 05, 2010 Pamela rated it liked it
This book was entertaining and well written, but it was already too out of date by the time it was published. The author needed to provide more current information from the time when the book was published.
Jun 10, 2012 Natalie rated it really liked it
In the style of Vasari, this book is a biography of the world's greatest contemporary artists. I must read for art lovers. A great book to pick up and put down. You'll learn something each time.
Sean Billy
Jan 10, 2016 Sean Billy rated it it was ok
Mostly superficial. Potentially insightful in terms of short small glimpses into the artists' lives from an almost aerial overview. Too NYC centric given the book's premise.
Ryan Chapman
Jan 13, 2009 Ryan Chapman rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
Simultaneously intelligent an an ease to read, this book is essential for any art fan. Even those casually interested will find many points of entry in Tomkins' essays.
Mar 05, 2013 Alaina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

Highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in contemporary art. I can't wait to read more by Clavin Tomkins.
Dec 27, 2008 Michael rated it liked it
"A lot of people think art's weird and stupid. I want to get those people, get them to come in and go "AAARGH!"
-Damien Hirst
Apr 23, 2009 Sazuru rated it really liked it
It was enlightening to see the trend or pattern in each artist's life long before fame obscured the roots.
Mar 14, 2010 Mimi rated it really liked it
really good essays on contemporary artists, originally appeared as New Yorker articles.
Oct 05, 2012 Anca rated it really liked it
I'd love to see an Elles version of this.
Dec 31, 2008 Ellen rated it it was amazing
Great essays on contemporary artists. I think most were published in the New Yorker.
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Calvin Tomkins has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1960. He wrote his first fiction piece for the magazine in 1958, and his first fact piece in 1962. His many Profile subjects have included Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Philip Johnson, Julia Child, Georgia O’Keeffe, Leo Castelli, Frank Stella, Carmel Snow, Christo and Jeanne-Clau ...more
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