Not quite 33 artists but yes, 3 acts

My wife gave me Sarah Thornton's 33 Artists in 3 Acts for Christmas, which functioned as a kind of winter beach book for me. The chapters (one per artist) are calibrated for name recognition, with just enough less-obvious names to make the reader feel on the inside. On a word-denominated basis, however, the book is mostly a reportorial account of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst's recent careers without much by way of analysis.

The book is its best when Thornton gives a voice to her subjects. I appreciated Francis Alys' observation that "For the first time in four centuries the artist has regained fully integrated social status. It's a liberal profession like it was at the time of Rubens. I'm glad the romantic myth of the starving artist is virtually dead." This is one version of a theme that runs throughout the book: that the artist is now a well-regarded pillar of bourgeois society because she manages to enjoy the benefits of that society without following its rules. (Benjamin Buchloh's book this is not.)

Of course the romantic myth still has a pulse. Economic anxiety is alive and well for most artists. And there are costs to artists when their professionalism is linked to or co-opted by other, commercially circumscribed professions. One small example that makes me shudder is the recent spate of "the art of business" books that seek to leverage artistic creativity as just another way to differentiate brands and business careers. But I'm still happy to think that Alys is correct that the romantic myth is on its way out.