Troy's Reviews > Conversations with Artists

Conversations with Artists by Selden Rodman
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's review
Dec 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2009, art, forgotten-gems
Read in December, 2009

I've never heard of Selden Rodman, but he knew everyone in the 1950s art world, and he interviewed everyone in the 1950s art world. Even better, he's smart, perceptive, well-read, and deviously gossipy. This is the art world version of US magazine, but with the intellectual rigor of October magazine . The artists are all perceptive and insightful, but what is surprising is that the more well-known artists also tend to be the most interesting.

This book was written in 1957, right in the middle of the rise and dominance of abstract expressionism, which, at the time, was still loathed by the dominant culture. Endlessly, the ab-exers talk about their disdain and disgust with the larger culture. On the flip side, Rodman talks with several realists, most of whom are now forgotten, and their concerns seem quaint and ancient (except for Ben Shahn, Saul Steinberg, and Jacob Lawrence, who aren't beholden to realism, but use it for their own purposes).

The best interview is easily with Jackson Pollock. He is impulsive, brilliant, wild, and drunk. The first interview ends with him drunkenly hugging a tree and exclaiming its beauty. The second interview starts with Pollock locked out of his studio - so Pollock knocks out the window panes in order to get inside.

The second best interviews are a months-long exchange between Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, who are both cutting, bitchy, pompous, and whip-smart. At one point, for example, Wright says Johnson, "is a highbrow. A highbrow is a man educated beyond his capacity. His house is a box of glass - not shelter. The meaning of the word shelter includes privacy." And there's much more. Their exchange is hilarious.
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