Philistinism?


I read this rather depressing story in The New York Times about a Steve Martin discussion at the 92nd Street Y the other day. Martin was being interviewed about his latest novel set in the art world and…gasp… about art collecting in general. Sol Adler, the Y’s executive director, was just horrified. How gauche!  From the NY Times:

“Last night’s event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd St. Y,” Sol wrote in an e-mail to ticket holders. “We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.” About 900 tickets to the event, which cost $50each, had been sold; all ticket buyers received the offer. Perhaps the audience saw that message coming. Midway through the conversation, a Y representative handed Ms. Solomon a note asking her to talk more about Mr. Martin’s career and, implicitly, less about the art world, the subject of his latest novel, “An Object of Beauty.” According to Mr. Martin, viewers watching the interview by closed-circuit television from across the country sent e-mails to the Y complaining “that the evening was not going the way they wished, meaning we were discussing art.”

It was, he said, “a little like an actor responding in Act III to an audience’s texts to ‘shorten the soliloquies.’ ” The audience cheered when Ms. Solomon read aloud the note. Still, Ms. Solomon said she had thought until that moment that things were going swimmingly. She said she was “appalled” to have their conversation publicly criticized by the Y and found deserving of a refund.

Good grief.  The public evidently only wanted to hear about what it’s like to work with Alec Baldwin, or, what it was like to be a “wild and crazy guy.” This is the audience of the 92nd Street Y, one of the city’s cultural hubs.  I used to go from time to time, in fact, I was even a “patron” (much to the chagrin of some upper crust, upper east side phony jackass that tried to chase me out of a seat more than once).   Sometimes they’d screen movies and have a q and a with the director; a quarter of the place would clear out directly after the movie.  Ack. If philistinism is what the people want, they will get it, it seems.
Martin’s (far too polite, but menchy) response: here.

6 thoughts on “Philistinism?

  1. you know, i just read martin’s “eyewitness” account, and even assuming it to be accurate, i still find having someone walk out uninvited onto the stage with a note telling the speakers what to talk about appalling.

    • still find having someone walk out uninvited onto the stage with a note telling the speakers what to talk about appalling.

      Yes, agreed. I also find the assumption that one would be able to discern what exactly people wanted to hear equally condescending.

  2. “Now let me try to answer the question you might be asking yourself at this point: was I boring? Yes, I might have been. In hindsight, I probably should have read a few pages from my book to give the audience a feel for it, and I did struggle with a few explanations. But I was not lazy and neither was Deborah.”

    He probably was boring, and maybe even intentionally so, in the sense that he wanted to be seen as ‘not the comedian’. But he nailed it himself: I’ve heard maybe 12 writers do programs at that rather drear, but august and important, place (concerts don’t quite ascend the way they should there either), but always the author read from the new book. THAT is the most glaring error, and in Bryan’s link, it says that Ms. Solomon insisted upon reading from the book over ‘his mild objections’. He’s knowledgeable, and has been collecting for a couple of decades (there were things on him at MOCA as far back as the 80s, I believe, and maybe before), but he wasn’t born into that world. It just so happens that I read a ton of Louis Auchinclosses fictions in the last few months, and that there were maybe 10 stories about art collecting, art curators in museums, gallery owners, special pictures ‘lived in vicariously’ by the Old Money Types Auchincloss grew up with (writers attacked him for writing only about ‘the very rich old Manhattanites, but Gore Vidal said ‘who else has given you this information?’ and he was right. )

    Martin has written plays that have been produced here, and other writings, but he’s still known for being a comedian. I think that, at very least, he should have read from the book, and then ‘talking about art collecting in general’ could have been done’, but I think it’s absurd to expect an audience (who were not probably typical 92nd St. Y people, and most were probably Steve Martin fans) to take him exactly as he is more or less demanding. You have to be a bit friendlier with the people who made you famous (and for what they made you famous), and there are a few others who have had this problem. Barbra Streisand used to be very standoffish, but realized it just wasn’t going to work–that people knew she could do all sorts of things, that she is even a great philanthropist and a good decorator and collector herself, having left FOUR houses as the Barbra Streisand Conservancy at Malibu–but they primarily are interested in her as a singer, and to a slightly lesser degree film star, more than they are in her houses or in her film directing. They’re trying to direct the audience at that point, almost a version of the old ‘my fans won’t leave me alone’ and ‘respect my privacy’.

    It sounds like a dreadful event, although it does sort of go along with WikiLeaks Week. I find him pompous, and he’s been going toward that since the early 80s–he’s smart and there’s nothing wrong with being an arriviste, but I think there’s little wonder. But Ms. Solomon at least tried to read from his book, and the book should have been the focus, not ‘art collecting in general’. I don’t think refunding the audience was unconscionable. They didn’t really pay for that, although my experience there is that they almost always complain that an author ‘didn’t give them their money’s worth’, even when long passages were read.

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