Comedy legend Steve Martin has a new novel, An Object of Beauty, set in the New York City art world and offering a neat encapsulation of the end of an era.
This is a more cynical story that your two earlier novels, Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company. The protagonists in those stories, Mirabelle and Daniel, were genuinely lonely and without purpose. Isn’t the art dealer Lacey Yeager despicable by comparison?
Lacey is arguably despicable because she commits a crime, but she’s not despicable because she’s in the art trade. She has a quaint morality, a narcissistic personality. Self-centered.
You collect art, so does this story come out of your own experience?
I wanted to write about two things: the art world, and this character. And conveniently they came together. I did very little research except in my own brain. I did research the contemporary art world and interviewed some gallery owners. It’s a mystery to me the way that contemporary art galleries function.
You weren’t making a statement in this book about the craven immorality of treating beauty as a commodity?
No, not at all. I’m enamored with the art world. Anytime you look at anything that’s considered artistic, there’s a commercial world around it: the ballet, opera, any kind of music. It can’t exist without it. And certainly, my narrator, Daniel Franks, is not craven at all.
No, he’s you. So was Ray Porter in Shopgirl.
Yeah, sort of a nice, decent guy who wants to learn to write clearly.
You’re a writer, an actor, a musician. Which one do you love the best?
Whenever I engage in any one of them, I really like it. Right now I’m in banjo world so I’m really enjoying that. Thank God I have this variety of things to do. Otherwise, I’d just be doing the same old thing every day.
If you were to be remembered for only one thing, what would it be?
Geez. I would say comedy. Whatever that means. Comedy. I love comedy. That’s what got me into the arts. I don’t even know how to categorize myself anymore.
Do you have a favorite work of art? Your Raphael birdbath?
Thanks for remembering that—the subject of my first piece for the New Yorker. Every day I have a favorite work of art. It’s always different. The world is so rich with great art.
Which is your favorite city, L.A. or New York?
L.A. is my briar patch. That’s where I really grew up. Orange County. New York will always be the city of excitement and busyness. The place you’re excited to be when you land. When you land in L.A., you’re home.
But you were born in Waco, Tex.
Moved away when I was five, leaving behind a wife and two kids.
Your hair has forever been white. Are you a worrier?