Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty was one of my Christmas gifts. I started reading it on our flight back home to California. I continued reading it into the new year. Then halfway through life got in the way and it started to collect dust on my reading table. Finally this past weekend I picked it up again – determined to finally finish it. I’m so glad I did.
The reading of a good book should be similar to the experience of making a good friend – things start out slow and pick up pace as you get to know and love the person more. This was true of this novel. Initially I had a difficult time grasping and bonding with the characters but the deeper I got into the book the more I came to understand and appreciate them for their varied personalities. And by the end I wished I could continue to endlessly trace their lives.
I also appreciated the in depth description of the art world. Although I’ve always loved and appreciated art I had never known all the work that goes on behind the scenes at art galleries and museums. Also interesting to learn was the influence that collectors have on art trends and how they often determine value.
But most important was one recurring theme throughout the book – time defines quality and value of art. Towards the end of the book the narrator says this: “It was impossible to know if this new art was good, because mostly, good art had been defined by its endurance over time.” It took a good nights sleep and some early morning ruminations for me to fully grasp what Martin was trying to say by this; art imitates life. Just as with art, one’s life cannot be judged until a significant passing of time.
When we meet the characters in the book they are young, full of hope and promise and reckless. Weren’t we all when we were young? Whether we’re ready or not we’re forced to make life altering decisions constantly that will affect the future “me.” Yet we don’t know the future “me” and most often than not that person will be someone quite different from the now “me.” Still there is no way to know whether that decision was right or wrong, no way to judge. Only time will tell. And ultimately it does. We go through life and the years march on, we make mistakes, we gain and lose, some of us get bitter and others still never lose that hope.
Ultimately it’s those choices we make, the consequences of those choices and how we react to the consequences that build our character over time. Like brushstrokes on a canvas every decision, big or small, paints our self portrait. Let’s vow to make our self portrait shine and glow with happiness, kindness, gratitude and wisdom!
I’m grateful to Steve Martin for taking me on this breathtaking journey through the art world and the lives of these fascinating characters. But most of all I’m grateful to him for making me see life a little differently. Only the best books do that.