The Arts in Education
Tony Bennett in the Studio: A Life of
Art & Music
Tony Bennett in the Studio: A Life of Art & Music is the name of this big, handsome book, but note the order of the last two nouns: “Art” before Music.” It’s not a statement of preference but of appropriateness, considering the nature and content of the volume just published by Sterling. The sequence may seem surprising, however, because Tony Bennett is one of the greatest popular singers of the 20th century and, at 82, proving he can take on the 21st as well. Indeed, the day Education Update caught up with him last month, Bennett was getting ready for a forthcoming concert on Staten Island, and anticipating attending more performances by the youngsters in the school he started with his wife, Susan, five years ago (see article on p. 13). Frank Sinatra called Tony Bennett simply “the best,” high praise from the Chairman of the Board, but Tony Bennett’s first love would appear to have been art. It’s been with him all his life, early and late.
When he was but a youngster, an art teacher found Anthony Benedetto chalking up the sidewalk outside a railroad flat in Astoria, where the child lived with his mother. Impressed, the teacher offered to give him some lessons. Bennett confesses that he wanted to go to The High School of Music and Art but didn’t make it. He wound up, instead, at Industrial Arts and that, he says, was the best possible place for him to learn how to draw and paint and perfect technical skills—a judgment articulated by many a well known New York painter. Industrial Arts was also where young Anthony learned to appreciate hard work and discipline, both of which stood him in good stead when he left school at 16 to help support his family. But since those formative years, Tony Bennett has never gone anywhere without a sketchpad and paint box. He raises no eyebrows with colleagues in the music industry who know of his passion for drawing and painting and who know he’s there, sketching them, not needing the best lighting or a formal pose.
What becomes obvious early on in Tony Bennett in the Studio is clear evidence of his talent, especially for drawing and watercolor. The people (mostly musicians) and places he does over and over again (alas, no dates are provided) are instantly recognizable, not just because he’s superb at capturing a likeness but because he also captures the spirit, expression and mood of his subjects. No rank amateur, Tony Bennett has enjoyed many well-reviewed exhibitions; his work is in the private collections of some very important people; and one of his many takes on Central Park is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.
Although it’s obvious that his influences and abiding loves have mainly been the French Impressionists, some works here show his admiration for abstract art and, lately, for aborigine art. Among the numerous anecdotes in the volume one that particularly stands out has to do with Tony Bennett bumping into the poet Allen Ginsberg at an exhibition of Franz Kline—the two most unlike artists instantly taking a liking to each other, not to mention sharing a sense of Kline’s importance. Bennett’s always reading and ready to learn, an attitude that may explain in part why he and Susan, an art teacher, founded a public high school devoted to both music and art.
This is a good-looking collection and, if at $29.95, the art alone was not enough to recommend it, readers get a lively text from co-writer Robert Sullivan, the deputy managing editor of Life Magazine who has known Bennett for many years. And readers also get a CD with six pop ballads. Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for announcements of more concertizing and art shows.