Everything I know about art comes from two places. One is looking; always looking. The other is listening; listening to artists. Reading this book is like listening in on brilliant, curious, strange, charismatic people telling you things that you didn’t know you needed to know until you heard them. Every page here left me a little changed – which is a lot. Time is slowed, allowing you to look for waters from a deeper well. Russell and Robert have a kind of magical elixir about them, something elevated, urgent, passionate, joyous, heart-breakingly earnest, silly and unashamed to ask anything. Somehow they free their subject with a combination of questions and observations that range from smart to the unexpected to the stupid. In art this last category often yields penetrating insights. When they spoke to me I ended up spilling moon-rivers of my deepest self – the self you usually keep dancing at a distance. Sometimes int he answers they elicit you hear terrible spirits, ghosts, inner self-murders that make artists beat on against whatever current they’re called on to fight against. Hearing these is fearsome and at the same time like listening to love stories. Stories about how artists come to find their own voice, muster courage to keep going, deal with rejection and surrender to what they’re helpless not to do – which is to make art, even if it’s ugly, embarrassing, illogical, obscure, or alarming. When it comes to contemporary art, I often have no idea what critics, curators and artists are talking about. Many speak a kind of unintelligible gobbledygook that only 155 other equally abstruse people speak. That language is meant to keep people out, to intimidate and impress. Russell and Robert roll a different way, covering subjects as wide-ranging as contemporary painting, political art, aesthetics of race and gender, art history and how to look at art for dummies (that was me, a former long-distance truck-driver with no school and no degrees, who didn’t start writing until I was 40). They are able to say something is crap and be able to say why, exorcise demons that tell you that you don’t know what you’re doing(hi, everyone!), explain why a lot of art is over-priced, how to think about the ‘market’ and ‘money’, how to navigate galleries and much more. All this is made accessible, fun, gossipy and fast-paced. The artists and art-world subjects int his book form a beautiful, diverse core-sample of the extraordinary multiplicity of artistic practices on the one hand, and an overall grasp of art today on the other. Prepare to enter a portal to the mysteries of art, canonical wisdom, an understanding of how pleasure is an important form of knowledge, and the serpents that live inside all art.
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