- “All the world’s a stage,
- And all the men and women merely players”
- — Shakespeare
This last week, we met to discuss The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. Nine of us met in the theater, on the stage, the last hour of the 2016 presidential election counting down, politics on our minds and art and morality in our discussion. The theater was lit, but the stage was half in shadow, creating a murky atmosphere to compliment a murky subject!
Our first responder liked the book, as did we all (I think!). One of us hadn’t liked it as much at first, uninterested in the artist’s detail—while others found the descriptions of painting and forgery to be the best part. One member described herself as a “Sunday painter” and shared how expensive painting supplies can be and wondered about the author’s use of the word “cotton wool” which is primarily a British term. Another recommended a virtual tour of the Gardner Museum, offered on their website.
We talked a lot about the value of things and the importance of provenance. The discussion actually became quite heated for a moment, not so much from disagreement as from the difficulty inherent in ascribing value. If a copy is as good as the original, why is the original worth more? Why is a baseball from the Cubs’ recent historic win really so much more valuable than any other? Provenance, of course. What about art appreciation and knowledge? We remembered the Calder Mobiles mentioned in The Circle and by Isabelle Gardner in this story. We discussed them but weren’t all impressed. We were, though, astounded to learn that “it is estimated that 40 percent of all artworks put up for sale in any given year are forgeries.” 
Most of us found the mystery and development of the story to be well done. When we discussed Claire’s complicity in the forgery and in Isaac’s ruin, we were surprisingly forgiving. Claire was young and naïve and yet amazingly disciplined, dedicated, and talented. According to one member, Claire’s outing of Isaac was appropriate for what he did to her. Another member reminded us that there is “nothing like a woman scorned!” We discussed how her struggle made her stronger. Like the painting she stripped and then built back up to create her forgery, she was stripped down and then built back up. We weren’t certain how her volunteering at the juvenile center fit, though we discussed possibilities. Perhaps it was the small group size, or maybe it was the book itself, but we seemed to delve especially deep, finding the story layered like the paintings baked in Claire’s oven.
Am I missing details of the discussion? Of course! As always, it was a performance piece.
For our next discussion, we should be back in the conference room, still studying the effects of obsession and artistry and relationships, but with music! I hope you can join us! In person and on-line!
- Other works discussed:
- The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
- by Benjamin Wallace (2008)
- The Girl with a Pearl Earring (Book and DVD) by Tracy Chevalier (2001)
- Indecent Proposal (DVD) 1993
- The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults (DVD) 1986
- Tim’s Vermeer (DVD Documentary) 2013
 “As You Like It” Act II Scene VII. Shakespeare. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/you-it-act-ii-scene-vii-all-worlds-stage
 In case you’d like to see one follow this link: http://www.calder.org/work/by-category/hanging-mobile
 Discussion question #5 issued by publisher and provided by litlovers.com: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/8989-art-forger-shapiro?start=3