Steve Martin: Art and Commerce

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steve Martin, comedian, actor, playwright and author of An Object of Beauty: A Novel, talks about the contemporary New York art scene -- the setting of his third novel.


Steve Martin

Comments [29]

Mark Victor from Queens

The conversation you two had about "meaning" in art reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit that Steve did with one of the other cast members back in the day. It went something like this:

"What the hell IS that??"


"Yeah, what the hell is THAT??"

(longer pause)

"Ohhh... I know what the hell that is...

(real long pause)

"But... what the hell is that???"

I think this says it all.
Or... does it???

Thank you Steve. Thank you Brian.

Dec. 22 2010 01:39 AM

@Gaetano Catelli: Please. The disingenuous protestation "I'm just a comedian" was a manipulative deflection trotted out by Martin at every juncture where he wanted to excuse himself from the implications of his other trick: presuming to inform others about the collection, value, and impact of contemporary art. It's a form of inverted hubris, and one of the oldest tricks on the book. Not to demonize Steve Martin unduly here: people who succeed as celebrities and public figures tend to have a knack for this form of deflection, whether they use it with self-awareness or not. Ironically, this kind of manipulativeness is a perversion of the deeper capacity actually to empathize with others and imagine oneself into their positions for good (or decency), rather than for gain. A decent person might use it, as Martin did here, without intending to do something wrong or be deeply evasive or nasty. IMHO.

Dec. 21 2010 01:03 PM
Gaetano Catelli from Oxford, Mississippi

@Paul: Yes, he dodged the question of the "meaning" of non-representational art. However, Martin clearly stated that he's a comedian, not an art critic. He wasn't pretending otherwise.

But, his name has been in the news lately (including several write-ups in the NYTimes) because of the fiasco at the Y, and his novel about the art world has just come out. Ergo, it's a timely interview.

You were expecting Hilton Kramer?

Dec. 21 2010 12:39 PM

Paul from Brooklyn nailed it. Thanks for articulating this problem so beautifully. Money talks. This is all about Steve Martin having money, making money, and using it to attempt to wield a form of status in the art world--one based entirely on on patronage and power--that, unfortunately, is one of the factors making that (in some ways otherwise interesting) world so vapid in the first place. Martin and the 92nd Street Y deserve each other: each party displayed a lack of insight, and an inability to feel or perceive oneself into the perspective and feelings of others, that is lamentable. Until at least one party finds the opportunity to reflect about its role in what happened, nothing is going to move forward. Steve Martin, for one, seems to have ample capacity to reflect and change his mind--if only he will use it. --A fan and critic

Dec. 21 2010 12:34 PM
Paul from Brooklyn

I'm very fond of the Brian Lehrer show. The
quality of the segments is generally quite
high, with the exception of the occasional "puff" piece.
I was willing to give Steve Martin the benefit
of the doubt, but within minutes I was so put off by the emptiness that I switched off the
radio. The only thing more tedious than an
established art critic speaking about art is a
successful, wealthy art-lover doing the same, to no real end or edification. Good for book sales, I guess.
"What is meaning?" ?? He was a parody
of himself; I kinda don't blame the audience
at the 92nd Street Y for asking for a refund.

Dec. 21 2010 12:18 PM

I guess "susy from manhattan" [sic] fails to perceive the difference between wanting to hear someone reiterate his oft-heard story and wanting to hear discussion on a topic that is relevant to more than a microscopic fraction of society. Oh well, too bad for her.

Dec. 21 2010 11:46 AM
susy from manhattan

I really enjoyed this discussion. I hope Steve Martin has great success with his book.

I like the idea that someone who is successful in one thing (comedy) can also share his interests in other things....actually I find it MORE interesting than just hearing about the expected stuff, and I'd be interested to check out this book, especially because I go to many of these galleries and museums and would be interested in finding out someone elses' opinion.

The people who got upset that Mr. Martin didn't focus on the topic they expected him to, when he is obviously well-versed in art and thinking about art, are not open minded. Too bad for them.

Dec. 21 2010 11:37 AM
Hal from Brooklyn

Steve handled that critic beautifully. So much art criticism is hot air.

Dec. 21 2010 11:33 AM

I see Brian took his effete pills this morning! What IS this?

Dec. 21 2010 11:27 AM
rich from NJ

In regards to the 92nd y critcism of Steve and his passion for art. i'm reminded of the scene in the Imagine Documentary when the NY Times editor is upset with John because of his Anti-War ad. Steve, would you just make me laugh or John, would you just make me get up and dance.. Just a thought. Being a person of many interests myself I only find Steve more fascinating.

Dec. 21 2010 11:27 AM
licnyc from queens

All modern art is just complete and total scam. Real artist who study painting and can paint like the academics aren't considered and artist who paint unicorns with macaroni and glitter are considered artist by rich people not smart enough to know the difference.

Dec. 21 2010 11:27 AM

I would have thought that, as a self-styled cultured person, Steve Martin would have recognized that the old chestnut "old man gets involved with young woman" has been over-, rather than under-explored. Speaking of the question of what it means to contribute meaningful, non-cliche, and original artworks to contemporary culture, I should have thought Martin would aim higher than "Shop Girl." The use of the term "Girl" alone suggests a profound lack of discernment.

Dec. 21 2010 11:18 AM

I would like to know what Mr. Martin thinks of photography as an art?

Dec. 21 2010 11:18 AM

Ten minutes in, I can't say I blame the 92Y audience for getting restless. This interview is rather boring.

Dec. 21 2010 11:15 AM
Dave from Teaneck

The NYC (or World) "fine art" scene (not other scenes like western art) is totally created from exclusivity - exclusive dealers, artists, collectors. It is a social game and has nothing to do with quality.. There is really no place for artists who haven't been able to or know how to make themselves or be made a brand.

Dec. 21 2010 11:15 AM
Jennifer from Bed-Stuy Brooklyn

As a twentysomething who one day would like to start collected but has mostly no money, where can I dip my feet in the waters? Should I stick with my taste and my gut? Or just go with what is in my price range?

Dec. 21 2010 11:15 AM
Dave from Teaneck

The NYC (or World) "fine art" scene (not other scenes like western art) is totally created from exclusivity - exclusive dealers, artists, collectors. It is a social game and has nothing to do with quality.. There is really no place for artists who haven't been able to or know how to make themselves or be made a brand.

Dec. 21 2010 11:14 AM
bernie from bklyn

i'm going to turn off the radio and go make balloon animals. guess i'm not as evolved as mr.martin would like me to be. this 'watching paint dry' segment is really triggering my attention deficit affliction
"i'm more of an auction guy, not a gallery guy"
how about the "wild and crazy guy"?.....

Dec. 21 2010 11:14 AM
Carolina from Mahwah, NJ

Hi Mr Martin,
Are there any exhibitions on view currently that you would recommend? Thanks!

Dec. 21 2010 11:13 AM
Gaetano Catelli from Oxford, Mississippi

TS Eliot once said "Life is birth, fornication, and death." He was obviously being intentionally reductionist.

But, imo, art that doesn't resonate for the viewer along at least one of those three vectors is art that will not withstand 'the test of time'.

In other words, unlikes, say, the Old Masters, extreme abstraction, ie, 'art for art's sake' (rather than illumination of the human condition), will be of little interest to future generations, apart from art historians.

ps: I love Steve Martin anyway! ;-)

Dec. 21 2010 11:13 AM
Dorothy from NYC

Does Mr. Martin have a favorite artist?

Dec. 21 2010 11:13 AM
Jeb from Greenpoint

How do you feel about the way art and artists are typically portrayed in film; namely as insular, ridiculous, laughable, pretentious, elitist, etc.?

Dec. 21 2010 11:12 AM
AC from Manhattan

What advice would you give someone who would like to start buying art?

How do you start? How do you know what will appreciate in value? Etc.

Thank you.

Dec. 21 2010 11:11 AM
Joanne from NYC

Am interested in begining to collect art. But without a lot of money and extensive knowledge am a bit daunted. Please offer suggestions on the best way to start building a good knowledge base and build a collection?


Dec. 21 2010 11:10 AM
Kate Perry from Brooklyn

I'd like to apologise to Steve on behalf of the audience from the Y. I'm sure it would have been a very interesting discussion. I've followed his career for years and I love that he has branched out - most of us have trouble finding one thing that we excel at. People like Steve who can do more than one thing well I find it inspiring.

Dec. 21 2010 11:10 AM
Lou Viola

So who does play that guitar lick? That theme is just another reason why this show is part of my daily life...

Dec. 21 2010 11:09 AM

As someone who attended the 92nd Street Y event, I would like to strenuously object to being portrayed as a philistine who was upset to be hearing about art. The audience grew restless because the interviewer focused exclusively, for the first 40 minutes or so, on the details of Mr. Martin's novel, which almost no one there had read. The fault, if there is some, lies with Deborah Solomon, who did a poor job of interviewing Mr. Martin.

Dec. 21 2010 11:09 AM

hi steve, i actually read born standing up. a great read, pretty interesting. wondering if you have tried to get into fine arts yourself.

Dec. 21 2010 11:09 AM
Jeremy from Harlem

I wonder how much of the interview will focus on the recent 92nd street Y discussion?

Dec. 21 2010 10:12 AM

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