The plot of “Life Lessons” looks simple but is emotionally intense and captures the psychological turmoil of an abstract artist in the wild city of New York. The opening scene of the film shows Lionel struggling to work for an upcoming exhibition and his dealer fears that he will not be able to produce the numbers of canvases he is required to produce. The reason is later found out to be the absence of his assistance cum apprentice Paulette who has almost taken the shape of his personal muse. They both are shown to be in a troubled and complex relationship and apparently Paulette has left Lionel for a young comedian, who dumps her in one day. Lionel is ready to take her back at any cost and when he sees that she is not ready takes her back to his studio saying that it will only be a work relationship.
Throughout the film it is seen that Lionel feeds on the sexual tension between him and Paulette and in his fits of passion, desire and anger is able to produce excellent work. The story ends on Lionel completing his master piece, Paulette leaving him and a Lionel meeting a young female artist, who he immediately offers the position of an assistant.
The film can be seen as the director’s tribute to the true genius which lies trapped with in the artist and the agony that artist has to go through to unleash the pulsing energy of true art. The film is directed beautifully and the cinematography has played a successful role in portraying what the director wants to show about the artist. Joe Brown wrote in his review of the film that the camera work was “sensuous” and the wet paint and vibrant colors brought life to the screen. The musical scores have been incorporated in the film at such instances that they add to the drama and intensity of the whole scene. The character of Lionel known as The Lion in the art world (Brown) is shown to be an artist like Jackson Pollock, who holds a unique place American art history (Alloway). The opening scene where the agent comes to see Lionel really shows Lionel as the caged lion through the bars of the old fashioned elevator. He is a prisoner of his own mind and has to paint not because he needs to but because he simply has to. Hal Hinson is also of the view that Lionel with his dirty blonde bangs and pulsing angry energy portrays the lion of an artist he is shown to be. Nolte/ Lionel is portrayed as a true artist who is selfish about his work will do almost any thing to keep his “muse” with him. The two lead characters of the film have thoroughly done justice to their characters and the onscreen chemistry between the two is volatile and electric. Love is used as meaningless word many times between the two. He claiming again and again that he loves her and she asking again and again that if he loves her or not. Lionel acts as love stricken puppy following Paulette around and acting possessive and jealous yet it is seen that her teasing and hard to get attitude are the things that are a bridge between his mind and his canvas. Nolte has successfully portrayed the agony of an artist who is unable to find an inspiration and how low the artist can fall to hold on to the thing or person that inspires him. The women in the film play a more physical role. The camera captures the contours of their ankle, neck, fingers all of which are adorned