Critic Maud Newton reviews Samantha Peale’s novel of a studio assistant, The American Painter Emma Dial but prefers Kate Christensen’s The Great Man:
Young artists often mistake proximity to the art world for the act of creation itself. Nowhere is this error more common than in New York City, where being able to paint and make rent is a question of finding “the right imbalance” between art and paying work. So says the disarmingly candid narrator of Samantha Peale’s first novel, The American Painter Emma Dial, who is not following her own advice. Emma, in the employ of a critically acclaimed painter, hasn’t visited her studio in a year. Her self-loathing is palpable; the prose vibrates with the heat of her disgust. (The author herself served as a studio assistant to Jeff Koons — the controversial “King of Kitsch” — and would have had the opportunity to witness this creative trap first-hand.) […]
Emma’s musings about herself, her boss and the shallow business-, theory- and networking-obsessed world they move in, recall in their frankness and clarity the gimlet-eyed Kate Christensen, whose first novel, In the Drink, depicts an aimless young woman ghost-writing a memoir for a socialite, and whose more recent book, The Great Man, exposes the superficiality of the art world by depicting dueling biographers of a now-dead male artist who fail to recognize his less famous sister as the real talent.
While Peale’s work lacks the layered complexity of Christensen’s best work, The American Painter Emma Dial is fueled by the same kind of urgent, accessible and weirdly riveting inquiry into the desire to create. Is Emma a true artist, or is she a cog? By the end of the book, we are dying to find out, and we do.
Adventures in the Art World: American Painter (Publicbroadcasting.com)