Salman Rushdie and Jeff Koons Teach New Courses on Art, Creativity & Storytelling for MasterClass

If Mas­ter­Class comes call­ing, you know you’ve made it. In the five years since its launch, the online learn­ing plat­form has brought on such instruc­tors as Mar­tin Scors­ese, Helen Mir­ren, Steve Mar­tin, Annie Lei­bovitz, and Mal­colm Glad­well, all of whom bring not just knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence of a craft, but the glow of high-pro­file suc­cess as well. Though Mas­ter­Class’ line­up has expand­ed to include more writ­ers, film­mak­ers, and per­form­ers (as well as chefs, design­ers, CEOs, and pok­er play­ers) it’s long been light on visu­al artists. But it may sig­nal a change that the site has just released a course taught by Jeff Koons, pro­mot­ed by its trail­er as the most orig­i­nal and con­tro­ver­sial Amer­i­can artist — as well as the most expen­sive one.

Just last year, Koons’ sculp­ture Rab­bit set a new record auc­tion price for a work by a liv­ing artist: $91.1 mil­lion, which breaks the pre­vi­ous record of $58.4 mil­lion that hap­pened to be held by anoth­er Koons, Bal­loon Dog (Orange). This came as the cul­mi­na­tion of a career that began, writes crit­ic Blake Gop­nik, with “tak­ing store-bought vac­u­um clean­ers and pre­sent­ing them as sculp­ture,” then cre­at­ing  “full-size repli­cas of rub­ber dinghies and aqualungs, cast in Old Mas­ter-ish bronze” and lat­er “giant hard-core pho­tos of him­self hav­ing sex with his wife, the famous Ital­ian porn star known as La Cic­ci­oli­na (“Chub­by Chick”)” and “sim­u­lacra of shiny blow-up toys and Christ­mas orna­ments and gems, enlarged to mon­u­men­tal size in gleam­ing stain­less steel.”

With such work, Gop­nik argues, Koons has “rewrit­ten all the rules of art — all the tra­di­tions and con­ven­tions that usu­al­ly give art order and mean­ing”; his ele­va­tion of kitsch allows us to “see our world, and art, as pro­found­ly oth­er than it usu­al­ly is.” Not that the artist him­self puts it in quite those words. In his well-known man­ner — “like a space alien who has spent long years study­ing how to be the per­fect, harm­less Earth­ling, but can’t quite get it right” — Koons uses his Mas­ter­Class to tell the sto­ry of his artis­tic devel­op­ment, which began in the show­room of his father’s Penn­syl­va­nia fur­ni­ture store and con­tin­ued into a rev­er­ence for the avant-garde in gen­er­al and Sal­vador Dalí in par­tic­u­lar. From his life he draws lessons on turn­ing every­day objects into art, using size and scale, and liv­ing life with “the con­fi­dence in your­self to fol­low your inter­ests.”

Also new for this hol­i­day sea­son is a Mas­ter­Class on sto­ry­telling and writ­ing taught by no less renowned a sto­ry­teller and writer than Salman Rushdie. The author of Mid­night’s Chil­dren and The Satan­ic Vers­es thus joins on the site a group of nov­el­ists as var­ied as Neil Gaiman, Joyce Car­ol Oates, Dan Brown, Mar­garet Atwood, and Judy Blume, but he brings with him a much dif­fer­ent body of work and life sto­ry. “I’ve been writ­ing, now, for over 50 years,” he says in the course’s trail­er just above. “There’s all this stuff about three-act struc­ture, exact­ly how you must allow a sto­ry to unfold. My view is it’s all non­sense.” Indeed, by this point in his cel­e­brat­ed career, Rushdie has nar­rowed the rules of his craft down to just one: Be inter­est­ing.

Eas­i­er said than done, of course, which is why Rushdie’s Mas­ter­Class comes struc­tured in nine­teen prac­ti­cal­ly themed lessons. In these he deals with such lessons as build­ing a sto­ry’s struc­ture, open­ing with pow­er­ful lines, draw­ing from old sto­ry­telling tra­di­tions, and rewrit­ing — which, he argues, all writ­ing is. To make these fic­tion-writ­ing con­cepts con­crete, Rushdie offers exer­cis­es for you, the stu­dent, to work through, and he also takes a crit­i­cal look back at the failed work he pro­duced in his ear­ly twen­ties. But though his tech­niques and process have great­ly improved since then, his resolve to cre­ate, and to do so using his own dis­tinc­tive sets of inter­ests and expe­ri­ences, has wavered no less than Koons’. At the moment you can learn from both of them (and Mas­ter­Class’ 100+ oth­er instruc­tors) if you take advan­tage of Mas­ter­Class’ hol­i­day 2‑for‑1 deal. For $180, you can buy an annu­al sub­scrip­tion for your­self, and give one to a friend/family mem­ber for free. Sign up here.

Note: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Short Doc­u­men­tary on Artist Jeff Koons, Nar­rat­ed by Scar­lett Johans­son

Christo­pher Hitchens Remem­bers Aya­tol­lah Khomeini’s Fat­wa Against His Friend Salman Rushdie, 2010

Hear Salman Rushdie Read Don­ald Barthelme’s “Con­cern­ing the Body­guard”

Salman Rushdie: Machiavelli’s Bad Rap

Neil Gaiman Teach­es the Art of Sto­ry­telling in His New Online Course

Mar­garet Atwood Offers a New Online Class on Cre­ative Writ­ing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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