Life is full of art, especially the everyday things, and New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman shows us where to find it in this delightful little book. While he does talk a bit about what we would conventionally think of as art, he also talks about the art that occurs by accident – double-exposed photographs, interestingly arranged collections of light bulbs and odd medical paraphernalia, gumball machines - offering new insights into how to think about everyday objects. This book is a mixed bag of things, a collection much like the various ones he describes.
You won't find Kimmelman waxing poetic about the Matisses, Picassos, and Vermeers of the world. Instead, you will find him admiring the various ways in which Pierre Bonnard depicted his lover in her bath, the contributions that Bob Ross (of "happy little trees" fame) made to society, and Hugh Francis Hicks's extraordinary collection of 75,000 light bulbs, among other things. Kimmelman talks about science as art, particularly in regard to the medical oddities displayed by the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. While his subjects vary from the seemingly mundane to the sublime, Kimmelman stresses that it is all art, or at the very least that it can encourage people to think about the concept of art and what it means.
In addition to talking about the art itself, Kimmelman spends a lot of time talking about the artists - their influences, their processes, how they create. He even gets to spend some time watching some of these artists in action, seeing such artists as Philip Pearlstein develop a painting from start to finish, talking with his models, and speculating on the randomness of his paintings. He meets Michael Heizer, a creator of land art who works and lives in the remote Nevada desert. Most of the people he writes about in The Accidental Masterpiece are not famous; chances are, their art has never been seen by the majority of the general populace, but by introducing these artists and their works to us, he helps to broaden our concept of what art is.
Kimmelman never tells the reader what to think about art - he leaves open the question, for example, of whether or not Marcel Duchamp's urinal (entitled "Fountain") is art or just a urinal - but he opens up the possibility that art can be found in places other than art museums and galleries. Art may exist in your old family photo albums or your knick-knack collections, and they are just as worthy of admiration as a Van Gogh or a Da Vinci.