Lives of the Artists (Hardcover)

Portraits of Ten Artists Whose Work and Lifestyles Embody the Future of Contemporary Art

By Calvin Tomkins

Henry Holt and Co., 9780805088724, 272pp.

Publication Date: October 28, 2008

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (9/25/2019)
Paperback (1/5/2010)

List Price: 26.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Whether writing about Jasper Johns or Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman or Richard Serra, Calvin Tomkins shows why it is both easier and more difficult to make art today. If art can be anything, where do you begin?

For more than three decades Calvin Tomkins’s incisive profiles in The New Yorker have given readers the most satisfying reports on contemporary art and artists available in any language. In Lives of the Artists ten major artists are captured in Tomkins’s cool and ironic style to record the new directions art is taking during these days of limitless freedom. As formal technique and rigorous training continue to fall away, art has become an approach to living. As the author says, “the lives of contemporary artists are today so integral to what they make that the two cannot be considered in isolation.”

Among the artists profiled are Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the reigning heirs of deliberately outrageous art that feeds off the allegedly corrupting influences of capitalist glut and entertainment; Matthew Barney of the pregenital obsessions; Cindy Sherman, who manages multiple transformations as she disappears into her own work; and Julian Schnabel, who has forged a second career as award-winning film director. Tomkins shows that the making of art remains among the most demanding jobs on earth.

About the Author

Calvin Tomkins has written more than a dozen books, including "The Bride and the Bachelors," the bestseller "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," and the critically acclaimed biography, "Duchamp." He lives in New York City with his wife, Dodie Kazanjian.

Praise For Lives of the Artists: Portraits of Ten Artists Whose Work and Lifestyles Embody the Future of Contemporary Art

"This is art history live."—Massimiliano Gioni, Director of Special Exhibitions, The New Museum of Contemporary Art

"To match Tomkins in art of the brief life for keenness of wit and sharpness of observation, one must go back to Lytton Strachey."—Louis Auchincloss

"Tomkins’s access is astonishing . . . A deft biographer, he gives a lesson in his craft: how to balance present with past, the specific with the general, personality with context, features with flaws—all in the space of 20 pages. Tomkins is a ruthless observer. . . . He is also a generous critic of the cult of artistic personality. . . . Books [from] the New Yorker have become a small industry, but not all are as intimate as this one."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)