The Eyes of Adam

Alberto Giacometti was almost a living caricature of The Modern Artist. Such a judgment would strike his biographer as unfair, but it cannot be helped. The popular mind has formed some definite ideas about how an artist behaves: he is above all shabby—wearing clothes he might have slept in, spattered with paint (or caked with dust), badly in need of a haircut and a good night's sleep; he drinks and smokes too much, and whores with reckless abandon; he lives in rat- or roach-infested quarters that should have been razed years ago; he is as lazy as he is untalented. Giacometti not only looked the part of the 20th-century artist, his spindly sculptures would strike most casual observers as something a talented kindergartener would make out of Play Dob.

I do not know whether we can dismiss this popular conception on the grounds that the hoi polloi do not understand great art; sometimes they understand it much better than art critics would like to admit. At the same time it would be a mistake to simply dismiss Giacometti as another example of modern art's apotheosis of the worthless. For one thing, he was a man of considerable integrity. He broke away from the Surrealist movement at a time when he might have become one of its presiding figures, because he did not believe Surrealism served his vision of art any longer. It hardly mattered to him that he ran the risk of being excommunicated from the Parisian...

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