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Published in the Columbia Tribune 5 December 2004



Review:  Living the Artistís Life:  A Guide to Growing, Persevering, and Succeeding in the Art World by Paul Dorrell.
174 pages, Hillstead Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-9749552-0-2
By James Downey

I hate Paul Dorrell.

I hate him for having a successful gallery of fine art representing only Kansas and Missouri artists, when I had to close Legacy Art this past spring.

I hate him for being a published novelist, while I still struggle to catch the eye of a Senior Editor.

But mostly, I hate him for not having written Living the Artistís Life ten years ago.  Because if this book had been around then, not only would my life have been easier, but it would have helped countless other artists and authors that much sooner.

There's a reason why this book is quickly becoming a phenomenon in the art community.  Why it has been embraced by numerous university and college programs in the arts.  That reason is that it gives artists - prospective artists, emerging artists, even established artists - a lifeline, a touchstone which says "The life is hard, but it is worth living."

Paul Dorrell owns Leopold Gallery in Kansas City.  He is also an artist in his own right.  He has been through enough to know what heís talking about.  And he talks in a clear, first-person voice full of emotion and tangible good advice.  His book is an extended personal essay, in which he reveals his prolonged flirtation with bankruptcy at his gallery, the toll that running a struggling business took on his home life and his own art, occasional thoughts of suicide, and how he managed to learn enough to not only survive but help other artists.

The book is full of enough nuts & bolts knowledge about how the art world works to provide fresh insight to even well-connected artists (or former gallery owners).  Stuff like how to put together a portfolio, how to approach a gallery, the value of art fairs, and whether or not to haggle over prices, what a contract is worth, how to make sure you get paid.  Everything you need to know as a working artist is in this book.

But more than that, Living the Artistís Life is a lifeline for anyone pursuing art as a vocation.  Artists I know who know Paul, or who have just read his book, have found themselves greatly enriched by the experience.  Hearing how he copes with the frustrations of rejection, how discipline in working can lead you out of even the worst depressions, how in spite of all the aggravation the road is worth taking regardless of how commercially successful you are - hearing all of these things gives comfort, and support, and makes you realize that as lonely as it is, you're not alone.  From the book:  "Every living artist I've ever worked with, and every deceased artist I've ever studied, have all shared one simple trait:  each of them has gone through varying levels of self-doubt; each of them, at different times of their lives, has questioned the worth of their talent."

Even if youíre not a working artist, or a dabbler in the arts, this book is worth reading because of the insight it gives into why artists create and what their value is to society.  If I still had Legacy, Iíd find a way to buy cases of this book and just hand them out to our patrons and those who love the arts.

But I donít, so youíll have to buy your own.  It is available from local booksellers or online, $23.95 for the hardback, $16.95 for the recently released paperback.  Edited by Columbian Greg Michalson (who has a new start-up publishing house of his own at www.unbridledbooks.com), this is a book for every artist or anyone who loves art.  As Dorrell says:  "Read the book.  It's brief enough.  After youíve finished hopefully you'll come away with a better grasp of the art world, and why that world is so crucial to yours."

James Downey is the former owner of Legacy Art in Columbia.  He now spends his days pursuing the artist's life as a writer and rare book conservator.  More information is available at www.legacybookbindery.com


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