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November 3, 2011

Book Notes - Richard Polsky ("The Art Prophets")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Richard Polsky's The Art Prophets is a dazzling collection. These character studies of people who have shaped the art world taken together offer fascinating insights into modern American art.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Clear, concise and energized by the author’s fiery passion for his subject."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In his own words, here is Richard Polsky's Book Notes music playlist for his book, The Art Prophets: The Artists, Dealers, and Tastemakers Who Shook the Art World:


Hello, my name is Richard Polsky, and I'm the author of The Art Prophets. I've compiled a soundtrack to accompany the reading of each chapter of the book, which is about visionary art dealers and how their discoveries led to new movements in art history. Everyone mentioned in the book — from Shepard Fairey, who designed the Obama Hope poster, to Keith Haring, who brought the gritty streets into pristine white galleries — came out of obscurity to change popular culture. And each selected song is by a musician or a group that was also ahead of the curve — even Cher!


"Heroin" by the Velvet Underground: Ivan Karp and Pop Art

As all Andy Warhol aficionados know, he lent his considerable talents to the design of the famous album cover for the Velvet Underground, the one with the removable yellow banana. Listening to Lou Read sing "Heroin" reminds me of the edgy nature of the Pop era, and in particular Warhol's Factory. As Ivan Karp once said, when asked about the scene at the Factory, "The whole thing was rather gloomy."


"Batman Theme": Stan Lee and Comic Book Art

While Stan Lee didn't create Batman, his comic book superheroes carried on the tradition of the caped crusader. During the sixties, who could forget the sight of Batman and Robin running toward you on your television screen? But what really powered the opening sequence of the show was the "Batman Theme." Batman, Batman, BATMAN!!!


"Uncle John's Band" by the Grateful Dead: Chet Helms, Bill Graham, and the Art of the Poster

Chet Helms and Bill Graham set the table for the arrival of a slew of artists who created psychedelic posters to promote their rock concerts. Among some of the more memorable posters was Stanley Mouse's depiction of a skeleton wearing a garland of roses, to promote the Grateful Dead. Come hear "Uncle John's Band," while you read about how Mouse survived a liver transplant, courtesy of sharing a needle with Janis Joplin.


"(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters: John Ollman and Outsider Art

"Outsider art" refers to art by those who never had any formal art education. Many of the best Outsiders, including Bill Traylor, hailed from the Deep South. Their musical parallel was Muddy Waters, whose song "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" shared the same sensibility as these artists. As every artist in this chapter is self-taught, so too was the former McKinley Morganfield, who earned his nickname as a kid when he headed out to a local creek, and his grandmother shouted, "Don't you go playing in those muddy waters."


"Half Breed" by Cher: Joshua Baer and Native American Art

For years now, Native American painters and potters have been conflicted over whether they were artists or Indian artists. Cher's song "Half Breed" confronts the same issues and prejudices that her visual counterparts struggle with everyday. And like Cher, the whole chapter centers around identity. Is Cher a pop singer or a true chanteuse? Are the painters included in this chapter, like Fritz Scholder, artists or Indian artists?


"A Horse with No Name" by America: Virginia Dwan and Earthworks

The essence of Earthworks is isolation. "A Horse with No Name," by America, captures the mood behind these constructions, often constructed in remote stretches of parched earth. "I've been to the desert…" What featured artists Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer did was turn the anonymity of vast stretches of the West into surprisingly intimate art works.


"Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry: Tod Volpe and Ceramic Sculpture

This chapter highlights George Ohr, the "Mad Potter of Biloxi," who worked in the Mississippi Delta. Ohr dug clay from the banks of the Mississippi and created ceramic vessels that captured all the haunting eccentricities of the region; haunting Spanish moss hanging from live oaks , talk of voodoo, and art that doesn't play by the rules all make me think of Bobbie Gentry's spooky "Ode to Billie Joe," and its slow swampy syncopation.


"Kodachrome" by Paul Simon: Jeffrey Fraenkel and Photography

I've never been a big fan of Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" — too much clichéd talk about the "greens of summers." Yet, the tune does capture the spirit behind the joys of taking pictures. What it doesn't capture is the dark side of the medium, including Diane Arbus, who's a major part of this chapter and the greater story of photography.


"Downtown" by Petula Clark: Louis Meisel and Photorealism

When Richard Estes, one of the titans of Photorealism, was in search of urban subject matter to paint, where did he go? "Downtown" (by Petula Clark). After looking at how Estes painted what really appears in plate glass shop windows, and how they distort the surrounding imagery into an abstract composition, you'll never see the urban environment in quite the same way.


"Rapture" by Blondie: Tony Shafrazi and Street Art

The street life of lower Manhattan during the 1980s, and its resultant art, was in large part powered by music. "Rapture," by Blondie is the perfect song for its times, even mentioning graffiti artist Fab Five Freddie. In fact, Debbie Harry is featured in the ultimate street film, Downtown 81, starring none other than Jean-Michel Basquiat, right before the pressures of fame destroyed him. This closing chapter of The Art Prophets depicts in vivid detail why street art matters and how, thanks to Banksy, it has recently gone mainstream.


Richard Polsky and The Art Prophets links:

the author's website

Artinfo profile of the author
Forum interview with the author
Huffington Post articles by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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