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The American Painter Emma Dial

3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  250 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
“A racy, muscular, enlightening beauty of a novel.” —James McManus

Emma Dial is a virtuoso painter who executes the works of Michael Freiburg, a preeminent figure in the New York art world. She has a sensuous and exacting hand, hips like a matador, and long neglected ambitions of her own. She spends her days completing a series of pictures for Freiburg's spring exhibition

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 11th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company
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(showing 1-30)
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Jan 08, 2010 Gregor rated it it was amazing
My Girlfriend left this in the bathroom on her (i wont name it) e-reader retardo thingy.... I had never held one in my hand and as i grew more disgusted with the format i started reading this novel on it with a disdainful inner voice like i hated anything this stupid machine could contain. after the first chapter i went to the store that is two blocks away (i will name it Skylight on Vermont in Ellay), and paid cash for a hard back book. I read it. I thought it was great. My heart raced. I want ...more
Jul 01, 2010 Randine rated it it was amazing
Oh, I really liked Emma Dial - so sorry the book is done. It's the BEST book i've ever read on the creative process - the nitty gritty of it when you're sitting there facing the canvas. The importance of place, of growth and the appreciation of good work that knocks you out. There's a painting Emma is affected by, a boy leading a pony, which I wished so badly I could have seen. Also, I wanted to see the painting Michael 'gave' her. Emma is so honest - a wonderful character.
Nov 08, 2010 Brenna rated it really liked it
This was a super fun read. It made me want to make something. Thanks, Lauren!
Jul 16, 2009 Margaret rated it did not like it
Emma sleeps with her boss, The Greatest Living Painter, while growing more resentful of painting his famous paintings and fantasizing about The Other Greatest Living Painter. Emma is having serious artistic constipation when it comes to her own work. Finally she has bodice-ripping sex with The Other Greatest Living Painter who tells The Greatest Living Painter that Emma is a great painter. Emma quits her day job and goes to live in Miami (where The Other Greatest Living Painter resides) and find ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Teresa rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read, a glimpse of the New York art scene as I'd never imagined it could be. The main character, Emma Dial, is preeminent painter Michael Freiburg's assistant. She moves through a world that I sense would crush many a creative soul. With only a few close friends, she lives a life that revolves around art, repressing her own ego, executing someone else's vision. I felt this story was one of profound personal growth. Emma has a good deal of grit and integrity; she risks much to find ...more
Jun 13, 2009 Justin rated it liked it
All right, I couldn't put this book down, and in two days was done with it. But, it probably could have been a short story, and I was a little disappointed that the climax didn't occur until nearly the end of the book. It was an engaging read, mostly because of the building tension, but the execution of the conflict, was ok. So it goes in the life of a painter. It was interesting to read about williamsburg, but i'm not sure there are any studios there now.
Mar 12, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
Man, this is a hard one! I toggled between a 3 and a 4 throughout this whole book. A 3.5 it is; rounding up on rating system to offset those 1 and two stars ;-)
Jami Murphy
Feb 02, 2017 Jami Murphy rated it really liked it
I've not recently read a book about a person making art in the contemporary art world that successfully captures the peculiar real life nuances of that lifestyle. I call it a lifestyle because after making the art, the world that the art and artist inhabits is truly a strange way of living.

Peale's characters never feel like art world caricatures. They possess an honesty that draws the reader into their very mundane, sometimes superficial, everyday art-making lives. I know for sure Peale is eith
Jul 27, 2009 Jukka added it
Shelves: book-club-ideas
The American Painter Emma Dial - Samantha Peale

What is it you really want, and due to your own self-created plague never get around to doing?

I was under the misimpression that this book was lighter ... chick-littish. I hadn't expected the harder bite, the social critique and the anguish. Self-important anguish, but who hasn't faced that very real hazard too. Very much about class and power in what should be a meritocracy but is simply the same old authoritarian labor system reworked.

I recently r
Aug 11, 2009 Lauren rated it liked it
[This contains spoilers to a degree:]
I wish that Goodreads would offer half stars. This book was definitely a 3.5. It starts off really well and is pretty much exactly what you'd expect and hope it would be: a sexy, first-hand perspective into the life of an artist's assistant and the art world she inhabits. The trouble is that while Emma Dial does question her role and hopes to work beyond it, you never have a clear sense of her vision, or honestly, what art means to her. You know she's a pheno
Nov 28, 2009 Alice rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Contemporary art fans, New Yorkers, people with a crush on old artist dudes
I liked this book for several reasons:

1) Most of it was set in lower Manhattan, right near where I live, so I knew exactly where everything Emma interacted with was, and I always enjoy that.

2) The descriptions of the art world were as insiderish and gossipy as you might want.

3) There was one sex scene I thought was really hot.

4) I liked Emma, who was pretty unapologetic, even though she did a lot of slacking off, sleeping with inappropriate dudes, drinking too much, etc.

But otherwise it was ju
Emi Bevacqua
Dec 01, 2009 Emi Bevacqua rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I learned a lot about the life of a painter's assistant, I had no idea a famous artist might openly employ somebody else to do their painting for them and that their collectors and art dealers and colleagues would accept that. Emma Dial is the painter's assistant, since art school she has always put her own needs after those of others. Besides Michael her famous employer there is her best friend Irene who is gorgeous, flighty, and always the center of attention.

Eventually Emma suffers an identi
Jun 07, 2010 Annie rated it it was ok
Just didn't love it. I can't (and don't want to) relate to Emma. But I want to broaden my horizons and understand or see how others live and work and so I finished the book.

I can relate to doing what you're passionate about but I don't understand a life dedicated solely to pursuing only one vision to the exclusion of family and security--but that's what makes an artist an artist and I'm not an artist. I'm a regular people--one of the regular people that make the world go round while artists ins
Jul 18, 2009 Jenn rated it it was ok
This seems like one more of those.. "I'm doing it wrong" struggle for change and becoming a new better self type books. It was interesting, but jumps around a lot. I guess we don't need all the details to get the story.

*** Minor Spoilers***
I think I am just frustrated that once someone starts to make steps in the right direction the book ends. It reminds me a lot of I Just Want My Pants Back which was a lot the same in many ways.
Aug 15, 2011 Elizabeth rated it liked it
A compelling portrait contained within a detailed, first person fictional view of the world of contemporary art and artists in New York. In outline, the story would seem a cliche--the career of a young woman artist subsumed by her work for and relationship with her illustrious artist boss--but the author writes authentically and occasionally memorably of a small set of individual characters who fortunately fail to behave archetypically. And her place descriptions--viewed with the eyes of an arti ...more
May 05, 2010 Kaya rated it it was ok
The narrator is a complete cipher, a vessel for Great Male Painters and someone who drifts through things unaffected (for the most part). There's some potential for interesting commentary here about female artists being oppressed by Great Men, but unfortunately she keeps sleeping with all the Great Men. But I did like the scene where she starts working and the Great Man interrupts here and she tells him to f*ck off. That was a good scene.
Dec 04, 2010 Valerie rated it it was ok
I didn't know that being an assistant to a great painter meant painting in his/her name. I understand that a good idea can spark a great painting but I think creating art is too personal and using someone's talents like Emma's is plain fraud. It was inspiring to see her take charge (at the very end) but the "risk" wasn't as significant as the book's review suggested since she owned paintings worth half a million a piece. That's not my idea of a struggling artist....
May 22, 2014 Cristi rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed meeting and spending time with Emma Dial, a painter who paints someone else's paintings. I was really rooting for her from page one. Very vivid characters in this book, a bit of drama, a bit of romance, a bit of melancholy. A very good read. It actually made me want to pick up a paintbrush.
Aug 06, 2009 Renee rated it liked it
Emma Dial is a virtuoso painter who executes the works of Michael Freiburg, her boss in the NYC art world. The book started out good enough but then tired me with the millions of clichés about the city. If you want to read great books about NYC and the lives of those who live there, then pick up something by Paul Auster.
Shellye M.
Nov 28, 2009 Shellye M. rated it it was amazing
I adored this book, so much so that I re-read the second half twice. It's a wonderful exploration of what makes an artist and I found Emma Dial such an appealing heroine. She is on a personal quest and I enjoyed reasding about her journey. Made me want to visit Miami, and I love it when an author writes so vibrantly about a place.
Jan 26, 2010 Lauren rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lisa P, Lisa B, Brenna, Amy F, Karen W, Amy R
Recommended to Lauren by: Kat Warren
Shelves: artandartists
I liked this very much. Not the story so much but the way it made me feel. Peale totally nails New York and all that can happen to you as you make your way through your thirties. How to commit, how to waste time, how to mature, how to grow up, and when are you too old to let yourself be treated like a piece of shit.

Great book.
Amy Rhodes
Nov 07, 2012 Amy Rhodes rated it liked it
Peale does a good job of capturing the mood and texture of young painters in nyc so the setting and color feel fresh. But the storyline is thin and predictable. I was drawn in quickly; the book starts very well, but it does not hold up throughout.
May 11, 2009 Maggie rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was Samantha Peale's first novel, and it wasn't bad. All the details about being an artist's assitant felt real. The rest of the character details weren't quite as strong. A quick read. If she writes something else I will probably pick it up.
Jul 12, 2012 Sjfstudio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-related
Picked this book up in a thrift store as it was about the New York art world as seen through the eyes of an artist's assistant. Really hit the mark and thought it was an interesting read. Somewhat cynical at times and a look at the art world from an insider.

Glo Sollecito
Samantha Peale really gets it. If you are an artist you will connect with this book. I think we have all felt the range of emotions experienced by Emma in this novel. On a universal level it is about a journey to self
Jul 04, 2009 Maya rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-2009
A brief read that I enjoyed. Not sure that I agree with the rave review in the New York Times, but I have no frame of reference for the New York art scene, so perhaps that was a stumbling block. Also, I'm hung up on one detail that I won't go into here, but is driving me nuts.
Jun 05, 2009 Miriam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-crack
It seems that I love novels about painters. This is the second one I've read in the past few months and I devoured it. It's a story about art, creativity, the creative process and leaving New York to find yourself. I must admit, I'm inspired.
Joyce Reynolds
Sep 25, 2014 Joyce Reynolds rated it really liked it
An excellent story about the creative process, how we limit ourselves and look for safety by developing distractions and blaming others for our self-made eternal availability to someone else's drumbeat.
Jan 12, 2010 Michelle rated it liked it
A decent quick read. One of those that I enjoyed while reading but probably won't remember much in a few months' time.
Gayla Bassham
Jan 25, 2011 Gayla Bassham rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-reads
I just never connected with this book, although I wanted to. Emma got on my nerves severely. This may say more about me than it does about the book, though.
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