Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa” as Want to Read:
The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  3,121 ratings  ·  97 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, 245 pages
Published July 25th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,121 ratings  ·  97 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
Heidi The Reader
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Michael Kimmelman, art critic for the New York Times, gives art trivia and philosophic insights in The Accidental Masterpiece.

... 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 seem but that the world is
There’s a bitter old guy – an artist, apparently – who sells books on Prospect Park West, in my parents’ Brooklyn neighborhood. I bought four books for my wife for her birthday last year, and this guy – I don’t know his name – pressed this book on me (as a free bonus). “You have to read this!” he insisted. So I did, shortly afterwards.

"The Accidental Masterpiece" has a simple thesis: in the old days, before postimpressionism, art and life were separate. An artist did his work (or her work), then
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Oct 31, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
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
Jul 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mitch Rogers
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This definitely was not a perfect book. A lot of the chapters felt tedious and boring. His writing gets a bit purple and long-winded at times. But overall, I appreciated the ideas that the author presented.
Carl Denton
Jul 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
ugh this book was such an uncritical sentimental mess. please don't subject yourself to this
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: good-riddance
I don't know why I keep believing that I can enjoy non-fiction. Every time I read it I can't help but feel the content is better suited for a different media, like a documentary or podcast. While Michael Kimmelman includes reproductions of many of the artworks he discusses—and I know that obtaining the rights is a difficult and expensive process—it's so underwhelming to read a description of a miles long piece of earth art and then see a black and white 2" photo of it.

An Accidental Masterpiece t
Lingyuxiu Zhong
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Like a college art course but only the best parts. Of the 10 chapters, my favorites are:
4. the art of making art without lifting a finger (about living life intentionally as an act of Art)
5. the art of collecting lightbulbs (collection as an act of wonderment at the marvolous, of creating order out of chaos, and as an act of internment and burial and hence bestowing a sense of permanence)
6. the art of maximizing your time (art can't hold death at bay, but can provide clarity and purpose while o
Phyllis Elkin
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Kimmelman's style of writing make this one of the more readable books on artists. The reader is able to experience both the personalities and the artistic passions of a wide range of artists. But what makes this book more unusual than other contemporary art books is the way Kimmelman interweaves art and life. No longer does one feel that art exists only in a sterile white box environment or in the rarefied sanctuaries of museums. No longer is the artist another contemporary celebrity. Art and ar ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great writing by art critic Kimmelman. His approach to this collection of essays is capsulized best here: "Art becomes our entree to the the sublime. It illustrates that beauty is not something static or predictable and always there at the top of a mountain, but an organic, shifting, elusive, and therefore more desirable object of our devotion, which we must make an effort to grasp."
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating collection of essays with insights into art, artists, and the lessons once can learn from both. The tone is wistful, but not maudlin, and each essay bears reading several times through.
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alltimefavs
"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
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Intelligent but always lucid
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A series of essays on art and life, lots of interesting bits
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
October 2015, update: Michael Kimmelman appears in a new film, chatting with his childhood piano teacher. His appearance brought to mind The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. And this seemed like a fine time to reread the fine book, which now joins the few titles that live on my shelf titled Read Twice or More.

Kimmelman in this book approaches art as an amateur, as someone who does something for the love of it. For example, as an amateur pianist, he entered a piano comp
Kevin Tole
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bought by chance and read avidly after opening to an anecdote on Bonnard. Michael Kimmelman is the art critic with the New York Times as stated at the front of the book, though he now appears to be architecture critic. So a background as an art historian. I've always found it odd that art historians do what they do (pontificate) without being art practitioners. The best ARE practitioners -James Elkins, Julian Stallabrass. Occasionally you get great insightful writing from these fellers that are ...more
Leslie Ann
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting set of meditations on art and life, the basic premise being that creating art requires effort and risk, but appreciating art involves a "heightened sense of awareness," like the wonder exhibited by children. I enjoyed reading the profiles of artists and collectors, but would have appreciated photos of more works described by Kimmelman.

Some quotes that I liked:
During the last century, the history of amateurism in America, whether it entailed snapping photographs or painting pictur
Oct 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Eveline Chao
Jan 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a book of observations about observing; observing art in all of its multitudinous forms and the manner in which one can enrich and reward themselves simply by giving attention. I returned to this over a decade after having first read it and I must say, it is one of my favorite and most treasured reads.

The book is organized into a series of essays that examine art from a myriad of colorful angles, like a prism held to the light and turned with benign consideration. My humble suggestion i
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: informative
"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
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Art in Theory 1900 - 2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas
  • Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting
  • Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye
  • The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
  • Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing
  • History of Modern Art: Painting Sculpture Architecture Photography
  • The Medium is the Massage
  • Art as Experience
  • The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media
  • Interaction of Color
  • About Looking
  • The Painted Word
  • Ways of Seeing
  • The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern
  • Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics
  • Goya
  • Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
  • Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students
See similar books…
New York Times architecture critic.

News & Interviews

You might know comedian Colin Jost from his work as the co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, or perhaps you know him as Scarlett Joha...
67 likes · 20 comments
“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.” 3 likes
More quotes…