On Being An Artist

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Art / Books, Apr 27, 2015 - Art - 304 pages

'One of the best books in years of an artist’s writings: elegant, pithy and full of insights' — Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate

Celebrated artist and influential teacher Michael Craig-Martin’s first book is a lively mix of reminiscence, personal manifesto, anecdote and advice for the aspiring artist.

Craig-Martin's life has been as colourful and varied as his distinctive work. From an early childhood that took him from wartime Dublin to postwar Washington D.C. and Bogotà, and student life in New York and at Yale University, he has gone on to enjoy a successful international career, feted around the world with major exhibitions, high-profile commissions and numerous honours. 

In On Being An Artist, Craig-Martin reflects with both wit and candour on the many people, ideas and events that have shaped his professional life. In a series of short and entertaining episodes, he recounts his time studying under the influence of legendary artist Josef Albers at Yale University School of Art alongside Chuck Close, Richard Serra and other soon-to-be-famous radicals; his memories of meeting personal heroes such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and John Cage for the time; his efforts to explain his art to a bewildered astrophysicist at high table at King's College, Cambridge; his astonishment at seeing the house and art collection of Charles Saatchi for the first time; and his surreal experience of staking out Christine Keeler at the height of the Profumo scandal.

He recalls, too, his first tentative steps as a practising artist and emergence as a key figure of early conceptual art in Britain. He also looks back on his achievements as a teacher at Goldsmiths, where he nurtured two generations of students, among them Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, earning himself the sobriquet 'the godfather of the YBAs'. As he considers the development of his own career and the evolution of the art world over the last half century, he offers the benefit of insights gained from his professional highs and lows, revealing the essential attributes and knowledge that one needs as an artist today. He also tackles controversial issues such as the fashionability of contemporary art, the enduring status of painting, the relevance of life drawing and practical skills, the qualities of art schools, the role of commercial dealers, the importance of speaking clearly about art, and the judgment of what is good and bad in art.

More than the life of one of the most creative minds of our age, On Being An Artist provides lesson after valuable lesson to anyone wishing to know what it means and what it takes to be an artist today.


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About the author (2015)

Michael Craig-Martin CBE, RA was born in Dublin in 1941. At the age of four, he moved with his family to the United States, where he was brought up and educated. Between 1961 and 1966, he studied at Yale School of Art and Architecture. He returned to Europe in the mid-1960s and was a key figure in the first generation of British conceptualists. As a tutor at Goldsmiths College in London from 1973 to 1988 and again from 1994 to 2000, he had a significant influence on two generations of young British artists. He has had major exhibitions and retrospectives at museums and galleries across the world, and has several permanent large-scale installations in Europe and Asia. In 1990, he was appointed a trustee of Tate Gallery; in 2001, he was awarded a CBE; and in 2006, he was elected a Royal Academician. His work is held in many international museum collections, including Tate, London; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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