I’ve used the phrase “art crazy” before:
referring to Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai,
who wrote that he was an old man crazy about art;
and in my essay espousing the conviction that artists are not crazy.
* * *
A few decades ago, after some unfortunate and scary events that I won’t go into, I began writing a fiction/non-fiction book manuscript titled Art Crazy.
It concerned a person I spent over a decade with, a sensitive young woman who was a fine artist. She loved being outdoors, and usually painted in front of the motif. For several years, at her persuasion, we went camping in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park and other more-local areas. She would get out her acrylic paints (which have some of the attributes of oils, but dry faster–a requirement for storage and travel.) By the second year, I brought along water color equipment. She had a way of depicting nature in a recognizable but stylized, expressionistic way. With dance-like exuberance, her paintbrush moved across the paper. She expressed herself looking at a scene from one vantage point and I, working in water color, depicted a somewhat different one, I admired what she could do and wished I could express myself with such freedom, and she wished she could paint in the realistic, stylized way I did. I’d amble over to see her progress on a painting, and sometimes I’d see a fine emotional result brought to its peak–and I’d say “Stop!” Sometimes she did, accepting the result as complete.
Not having a well-enough executed example of her best work,
I show here a few John Marin watercolors,
that somewhat approximate her finest style.
I just found an example, here below, of her more complex work:
“Autumn Trees, New Jersey.”
Acrylic wash, pastel, chalk, and charcoal,
11” X 16” November 14, 1974.
* * *
Several years after we separated because of deeply disturbing episodes that made me fear for my life (despite my efforts to resolve the problem), I produced over a hundred hand-written pages of the beginning of my Art Crazy manuscript, and had hundreds of notes about themes, details, etc. My usual style is to combine, in alternating chapters, my true experiences with fictional chapters related to the true parts, each enhancing the other. The idea is a fusion in which both true and fiction are entertaining, artful, and richer for the juxtaposition. The fictional protagonist (yours truly) and the woman artist who painted emotional, expressionist landscapes, had arrangements to stay at a communal artists’ retreat (such as The McDowell Colony: “…a space where inspiration happens on a daily basis. We do that by providing essential support for emerging and established artists…”). The other attendees referred to her as a crazy artist. My true/fiction attempt was to show that, despite some periodic events, she was not crazy in her art, but an exceedingly sensitive and artistically aware and able, well-formed person and creative artist.
* * *
A few months after I safely escaped,
I sallied forth again and fell in love at first phone call.
Allison and I have been married over 32 years.
* * *
In that book manuscript, despite my attempts, I could not discover how to contrive the plot to realize my ambitions for it. I was totally blocked. Some years later, when my wife and I moved to a smaller house, because my manuscript, related to that former life–and I seeing it beyond my creative ability to proceed–I trashed it. I mourn my inability to bring to fruition in the novel, the idea that artists are not crazy. The sole remaining physical manifestation is the proposed dust jacket I designed. (My subtitle is a tribute to Norman Mailer’s book and title, The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel/The Novel as History. His book conflates true events in which he was involved–the March on the Pentagon– with fictionalized-and-fiction-writing techniques.)
* * * * * * * * *
In memory of a lost manuscript.
This morning’s NY Times had (at least) two hard-to-believe reportages.
When I read the first, in disbelief, I quietly said
(Please click on images to enlarge—if you dare.)
As my wife put it, it’s a desecration of God
as well as of art.
Considering recent news, I’d not find it unbelievable
To encounter news that the British
have installed a Ferris wheel in the middle
And that the U. S.
a rifle range
in the Lincoln Memorial.
* * *
The second reportage I found on Page One
(under the fold).
When a person dies down there, do they
ship the body up to the surface
* * * *
Jean Shepherd rarely spoke about politics on the air. But founder of The Realist, Paul Krassner, commented, as quoted in my EYF! Most of the quotes below are from Chapter 11, “Keep your Knees Loose”:
He [Shep] said that if there were ever an American version of Hitler, it would be some show business character. Krassner comments that Shepherd would indeed deal with political matters at times on his show. “He would use some political event to segue into a childhood story.”
Barry Farber, quoted in EYT!:
There was Left, there was Right, and there was Shep. He saw foibles where they existed. And of course they exist on the Right and the Left.”
Regarding Shep’s attitude, his friend Pete Wood, is quoted in EYF!:
“And he would tell me over and over again, “Pete, I’m only going through this life as an observer. I have no desire to influence or change anything….”
The above was probably because of the rather pessimistic attitude Shep proposed several times in his Og and Charlie caveman stories told on the air, such as this, about Og seeing Charlie gathering some clams. Og…
picked up a large stone, raised it above his head, and brought it down with a telling, fatal crash between the eyes of Charlie….In that instant, man became man….But they were seen–by another man, who crouched by his cave. He picked up a rock and moved into the shadows. And waited. Modern man had begun to progress.
On the other hand, sometimes on the air he does admit his political thoughts:
Interestingly enough today, the Liberals are the banners, “I thought Shepherd was liberal” –and–well, I am. “And I thought Shepherd–is Shepherd against? You know–is he for the wrecking of our environment?” No, I’m not. I’m just discussing whether or not it’s possible to ban something….
As I put it on page 230: The general tenor of his comments and considerations on the radio give the impression of a somewhat Liberal orientation (despite some conservative leanings), yet with a reluctance to allow idealism to overrule reality.
In my Chapter 17, “Who Listens to Radio Anymore?” I quote Shepherd right after JFK’s assassination:
I’ve always been a Kennedy man. And for probably different reasons than you can always state–how you like a certain person–very hard to know all the personal things that make you lean towards a man–make you believe in a man, and so on. The one thing that I have always noticed about Kennedy, that appealed to me specifically, was that Kennedy was a realist….
Lois Nettleton, Shep’s wife at the time, noted to me that she, Jean, and her mother, were so distressed when they heard of the assassination, that they walked down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to join other mourners (They were probably already living in her apartment on East 57th Street, several blocks from Fifth Avenue–about a 20 minute walk west and south to St. Patrick’s. Coincidence: The Excelsior Apartment Building is less than a block west of their apartment.)
* * * *
I’m not quite sure of the connection I feel but can’t quite define,
that links Shepherd’s attitudes noted above and what I expose below.
The other day, I happened to see Joe Biden make that slip of the tongue/mind that got so much attention–most from those who did not quote the whole context . Considering all the difficulty to wholeheartedly accept what all politicians of all sides frequently say, I was angry. I wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times (they haven’t printed it–damn it!) But here it is in full, containing my accurate mischaracterization:
* * * *
* * * *
Somehow I relate Shepherd’s diverse political attitudes to my recent response.
I’ve conceived of a political cartoon titled:
Picture a guy looking through the fence at, in the middle distance,
the White House.
In his hand he holds a weapon of defiance.
On this wooden weapon, this guided missive,
is boldly inscribed the immortal words:
QUESTIONS WITH UNCERTAIN ANSWERS.
The weapon he is about to hurl is a
As he flings the thing, he cries out,
with all its enigmatic implications,
I have always known that an important part of my ways of
observing and reacting to the world
is thanks to that guy who talked to me nightly
as I matured, Jean Shepherd.
I have just realized that my artsy fartsy attitude toward the world’s
multifaceted glories owes some significant thanks
to that radio mentor, Jean Shepherd.
New York Times crossword puzzle of 3/15/72
JEAN SHEPHERD, MENTOR TO MANY
* * * * *
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (2019) is a book I’ve just discovered–it discusses why often a wide range of interests is of commanding advantage. To sum up the book’s 339 pages (some would say inadequately summarizing it): sometimes a particular problem in one field of study cannot conclusively/correctly be solved by experts with extensive knowledge in that field–but experience/situations brought forth from a wide variety of disparate fields can be successfully used—this could be called “thinking outside the box.”
In my particular art-related interests, I call this being ARTSY FARTSY.
* * * * *
An “ARTSY FARTSYIST” if I ever saw one.
The full-page book review of Range in the Sunday New York Times book section
June 9, 2019, is illustrated (as shown above) with
a silly but related cartoony image by Carl Vander Yacht.
The book reviewer, Jim Holt, comments:
Folk wisdom holds the trade-off between breadth and depth is a cruel one: “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” and so forth. And a lot of thinking in pop-psychology agrees. To attain genuine excellence in an area—sports, music, science, whatever—you have to specialize, and specialize early. That’s the message. If you don’t, others will have a head start on you in the 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” supposedly necessary for breakout achievement.
But this message is perversely wrong—as David Epstein seeks to persuade us in Range. Becoming a champion, a virtuoso or a Nobel laureate does not require early and narrow specialization. Quite the contrary in many cases. Breadth is the ally of depth, not its enemy. In the most rewarding domains of life, generalists are better positioned than specialists to excel.
* * * * *
Jean Shepherd’s range (RANGE) of interests and powers of observation were vast. And he had the ability to improvise nightly on innumerable fields of interest–for decades on the radio, as well as express his talent in various fields.
His television series, Jean Shepherd’s America shows his concerns and appreciation for the vast cultural panoply of America, the country he loved.
His promotion to his listeners of good literature and poetry (as well as Robert Service and Archy & Mehitabel) added to the mix.
His enthusiasm for world travel as a civilizing influence on one—from accompanying the early Beatles, to engaging with former headhunters in the Amazon, is informative and entertaining.
He had extensive knowledge and appreciation of opera and, contrastingly, his involvement as critic, MC, and the playing of contemporary jazz recordings on his early radio shows. On some programs he expressed his appreciation for such funky jazz as “Boodle Am Shake.” He would, on occasion, play the audio of Paul Blackman, the one-man-band (sort of like the color illustration above?). He demonstrated enthusiasm and expertise in the kooky silliness of playing kazoo, jews harp, nose flute, and knocking out tunes by rapping his knuckles on his head.
My little symbolic Shep-stuff-in-a-box.
None of these are actual pieces from Shep.
They are just examples of things related to him.
Top, brass figlagee with bronze oak-leaf palm I designed.
Blue kazoo. Red nose flute. Metal jews harp at bottom.
Actual Rapidograph pen–the kind Shep drew with.
Lower left, actual Signal Corps brass insignia.
Lower right, Orphan Annie decoder pin replica.
SHEP THUMPING OUT A TUNE
* * * * *
Range, page 273: “An enthusiastic, even childish, playful streak is a
recurring theme in research on creative thinkers….”
With his widespread interests and abilities, Shepherd did not hesitate
—whether the circumstance required it or not—
to be silly.
It was part of his artsy fartsy character.
JEAN PARKER SHEPHERD,
MASTER OF: RADIO, TELEVISION, FILM, LIVE
AND THE WRITTEN WORD
(and several musical instruments).
Gang, I’ve spent well over an hour searching in my Excelsior, You Fathead! for a quote from someone I interviewed for it. Two pages before the end of the book and my search, I found it:
Page 438-9, Larry Josephson: “I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive–to be on the air five or six nights a week and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being. You have to get up and concentrate the energy–drive, and whatever–to be a performer. It narrows your ability to give warmth and love to kids, women, and friends… I’m sure here and there there’s somebody in the world who was a very great creative artist and also a nice person, but I can’t think of anyone.” [The subsequent comment of Josephson’s, from earlier in the interview, I placed in the book just after the above] : “I think that the most important thing about an artist is what comes out of the radio, or what happens on the stage or the screen. What they were as a private person is less important–it’s kind of trivial–for the real junkies. I think Shepherd was an absolute genius. He was one of a kind….
Pursuing the book, Hamilton—the Revolution, about the musical, near the end of the book I encountered a photo of the replicas of Hamilton’s dueling pistols. Students of American history may remember that Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, and may be aware that near the end of the musical, one sees that scene.
“Replica of Alexander Hamilton’s dueling pistols,
as used in Hamilton” p.271, photo Frank Ockenfels.
What fewer, even literary people, may remember is that playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov famously wrote several times to the effect that:
If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
Remembering that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical’s creator, is a literate, clever, and witty fellow, I thought that there was a very good chance that he–or one of his co-creators– slyly chose to put those dueling pistols inconspicuously—but definitely visible—somewhere in the set right at the beginning, to be noted only by the most curious (and artsy-fartsyest) of theater goers or book-readers.
I flipped the book back to the large photo of the set near the beginning–
and set out on my quest to locate the weapons.
Right two-thirds of stage set, p.41, photo David Korkins.
But still in hot pursuit, I retrieved a good magnifying glass (as would Sherlock Holmes) and searched. Finally, to the far right above the black rectangle of a box on the floor, nearly touching the apparent rounded container atop the box, there they were!
My perceptive wife noted that Hamilton’s early song
about his dreams and ambitions, “My Shot,”
is ironically echoed in the
“one Shot” that kills him at the end.
Additional comments on HAMILTON with reference to Eminem.
The text of the book HAMILTON THE REVOLUTION mentions several rap performers of relevance to the musical. From page 21: For all its variety of style and subject, rap is, at bottom, the music of ambition, the soundtrack of defiance, whether the force that must be defied is poverty, cops, racism, rival rappers, or all of the above. Think of Nas’s “The World Is Yours,” 2Pac’s “Picture Me Rollin’”, or Eminem’s “8 Mile.” The book also notes, as most are aware, that rap often incorporates references/tributes to other peoples’ work.
HAMILTON the musical’s songs include “My Shot,” sung by Hamilton–his ambition to prove himself to the world, repeating “my shot” many times:
I am not throwing away my shot!
Hey yo, I’m just like my country,
I’m young, scrappy and hungry,
And I’m not throwing away my shot!
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)
* * *
Marshall Mathers (Eminem)
The highlight of Emiem’s film EIGHT MILE (released 2002) features a rap contest in which he performs “Lose Yourself,” with lyrics emphasizing his “one shot” of proving himself–persevering in his life’s goal. His contest is but to win a musical battle in a local situation (a transformative moment which will someday lead the real Eminem to national ascendancy in the field of music.) Alexander Hamilton, in the musical, is in a situation that will lead him to national prominence in a political Revolution that will give birth to a transformative nation.
I don’t suggest a large indebtedness to Eminem’s rap, but there does seem to be
an influence in the idea of “Lose Yourself.” The music is different,
the words convey a similar sense of determination:
If you had
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?…
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime you better…
I borrowed the book from the library. Within a few moments of skimming the pages, I knew that I had to possess it forever—that it was a magnificent, mass-produced, artists’ book. (Despite the fact and because of the fact that it’s hip-hop based.) Now I have it for my very own. *
* I’m not a hip-hop kind of guy. (But HAMILTON is somethin’ else!) And I really like a couple a Eminem’s big hits. Like that masterpiece, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” and “The Real Slim Shady”–see ’em on YouTube. (You know Eminem–the white guy what co-opted black dudes’ music.)
Even the size and heft of the book, the cover and the weight of the pages and their deckle edges, express something out of the norm.
The many full-page color images from the play, with much of the text of the play superimposed upon them, are bold and strikingly effective. The “footnotes” provide ancillary info both historical and unexpectedly personal as well as relevant creative information and are all formed, not at the page bottoms, but vertically along the sides—“side issues,” so to speak. There are short chapters about performers and others involved with the production; there are personal asides on the inspiration for the play; there is a tribute to the acclaimed 800-page Hamilton biographer, Ron Chernow; all of these with related photos printed on seemingly antique paper stock.
These texts mostly end satisfactorily at page-bottom rather than extending awkwardly as tail-ends (tale-ends) on the continuing side. There are images of letters Hamilton wrote, other archival written matters, and even sketches with fabric swatches of the costume designs. We have in our hands a created art-object that, in its production design expresses and tallies with its unconventionally unexpected subject matter. The book was organized by Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, book design credit: Paul Kepple and Max Vandenberg of Headcase Design, packaged by Melcher Media. Theatrical play and book both perfectly express their carefully contrived uniqueness.
Near the book’s beginning, the play’s creator (of book, music, and lyrics), Lin-Manuel Miranda, is described during his early performance of an important song-in-the-works being performed in the White House for President Obama, his wife, and others. Near the end of the book we see Obama on stage paying tribute to the finished play.
* * * * * *
P 10 Introduction photo: Sara Krulwich/NY Times
* * * * *
P 16-17 Front photo of Miranda as Hamilton: Joan Marcus
* * * *
P26 “My Shot” lyrics
* * *
P 36-37 Notebooks of Lin-Manuel Miranda
P 39 Set photos: Frank Ockenfels
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The art of the book from several interviews of
Jeremy McCarter on the making of the book.
Excerpted from these 2 sources:
It would have to trace the revolution that’s in the show and the revolution of the show itself. It would have to follow the same arc, which would mean somehow we would have to get the narrative chapters to line up alongside the songs in the show. It would have to hit some of the same story beats, and it would have to try to translate the values of the show into a very different medium. I proposed something to Lin that I thought would do that, and he went for it, and away we went….
A big part of this process was saying, True, we want to give you the best and most up-close look at the creation of the show, but I also wanted to reckon with what has already changed because of this show and what is likely to change well into the future. So that’s one reason why that felt important to me….
I wanted to be true not just to the facts of this thing, but also this is how it felt going through this over the last five, six, seven years….
Hip-hop is a uniquely potent, musical way of telling stories, but where are the people using hip-hop as a storytelling device? So I went and watched everything I could find that was going to combine hip-hop and storytelling in some adventurous way….
Miranda wrote most of the songs from Hamilton in sequence, so the book follows its creation and its plot in chronological order,…
Lin wrote the show largely in sequence, so the text of the book is a series of chapters that describe another episode in its development, or share a profile of a person involved in the production, or something essayistic about what it means. It was complicated to put together, but part of the fun of it for me and Lin is that this was like a puzzle: How do you assemble the pieces of this book so that it’s telling a coherent story from page one to page 288, but also setting up the next song in the show, and how do the notes on that song explain that song but also continue the insight that Lin has been giving you in the songs that follow and precede….
“We knew from the beginning that the book ought to evoke Hamilton’s era, and one of the really distinctive things about books back then is the crazy-long, all-inclusive titles, which, it turns out, are stylistically really interesting, but also really helpful because these chapters do include lots of different kinds of stuff….
Lin went in on these song annotations. They’re really smart, they’re really funny. He shed a lot of light on how autobiographical some elements of the show are — even moments that you would never think are related to his own experience. Most of what Lin wrote in the annotations is even new to me, and I was around to watch him work on a lot of it. They’re very personal. It’s a mix of technical stuff, of jokes, of references to other shows and rap albums. It’s about his life, and how his experiences shaped large things and small things in the show. They shed an extraordinary amount of light on what you’re hearing….
…[I wanted] to push more for ways of playing with ways that the present and the past are playing with each other….Everything that’s in it ought to be primary material of one kind or another. It’s a description of an episode, or it’s a direct quote from a document from the time, or it’s Lin commenting on his own process….
A MINOR PURSUIT IN FOUR ACTS
(An Artsy Investigative Sequence)
- I’ve posted regarding my discovery of an important, heretofore unknown (to me) aspect of Cezanne’s sometimes use of a dark daub of paint in the sky near the top of his revered mountain, Mont St. Victoire. John Marin, possibly in tribute to Cezanne, sometimes also used that painterly strategy. I described how a particular atmospheric condition sometimes formed a “lenticular” cloud near the top of some high mountains: (www.shepquest.wordpress.com August 17, 2016, August 20, 2016).
- Recently, looking through a book of reproductions of Japanese woodblock-prints,“Hokusai 100 Views of Mount Fuji” by Henry D. Smith II, I came across one of Hokusai’s images of Fuji with a cloud formation. I hadn’t previously paid informed attention to this image.
- I checked the author’s description of the print and found:
The “hat cloud” that Mount Fuji wears here is the term used by meteorologists today to describe the phenomenon by which warm air is driven up along the face of the mountain, condensing into a cloud of vapor at the peak. Although found on other mountains, the hat clouds of Fuji are particularly famous,….
- I Googled “Mt. Fuji Clouds” and got numerous images of Fuji and other mountains with lenticular clouds. (Some of the clouds are not centered on top of mountain peaks or as symmetrical as those shown here.) Sometimes these clouds are mistaken for “flying saucers.”
LENTICULAR CLOUDS OVER FUJI
Thus, another artsy adventure that taught me something new.
People have dolls on walls, on shelves, and in their hearts.
For this group portrait, the ones above have been
temporarily arranged on our sofa with its Peruvian manta.
My wife, Allison, began collecting owls in innumerable formats years ago—they represented for her a life of intelligence and knowledge (she is a trained librarian). Later she began collecting teddy bear-style stuffed dolls as a softer, more cuddley, icon. She came upon a company that produced a series of dolls, each one based on a famous real or created person, the name a play on the doll’s representation, such as Napoleon Bear-naparte and Audrey Hep-bear in My Bear Lady.
She bought the whole dozen or so, including the one above cuddling the other dolls: Al-beart Einstein.
The small tan bear on the right is a librarian-bear, with black-rimmed glasses (falling off), holding a row of books (all high-quality literature, I’m sure).
With my interest in primitive art, I collected the slim, woven cloth doll on the far left, about 2,000 years old, found on the Peruvian desert. I’m sure the pre-Columbian child owner cuddled and loved it.
The pink, stuffed doll, Peppa Pig, holds her own doll, both eyes on the same side of her head Picasso-like. She names it Teddy (I call it Pablo).
The black, wooden, African doll I bought on the Left Bank in a curio shop in 1966. Ashanti women wear these with the flat, round head tucked into their garments to promote fertility. A visiting British curator of African art authenticated it for me, saying his, temporarily on display at New York’s Museum of Natural History, seemed to have been made by the same carver. Despite its broken feet, I find it one of the most attractive Ashanti dolls I’ve ever seen.
I’m sure many red-blooded, older-generation American males would
like to collect Dolly Parton bare
but that’s a different story.
In decades past I have received some responses to my artsy correspondences. The NY Times published: my alternate critique of the film “Muriel,” and also my letter to the editor with my disapproval of baseball’s damnable Astro Turf. The MOMA did not thank me personally for correcting their mistaken title for an etching in their extensive Picasso retrospective–but they corrected the exhibit’s wall label. The French Cezanne Society didn’t respond to my correspondence regarding the significance of Cezanne’s “angry patch.”
But from time to time I persist in my artsy correspondence.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
In recent years, in ARTSY FARTSY additions to my Jean Shepherd blog essays, I’ve mused upon my multitudinous, multifaceted, kaleidoscopic, accumulated, bundled, (Shepherded), chockablock adventures in the wide world of art. A veritable phantasmagoria, assemblage, collage, heterogeneous anthology/mosaic, a teeming brew of all-sorts-and-conditions—everything-but-the-kitchen-sink throng of art-life. (For the assist, thank you, Thesaurus.)
Authentic hand-typesetter’s drawer. Rows top to bottom–
a selection of inhabitants partly evoking
the multiplicity of my ARTSY potpourri.)
1. Tiny chambered nautilus shell; tiny calipers;
2. found white rock with spiral incision; strangely corroded sink stopper;
3. Mexican pre-Columbian 4-note whistle in shape of stylized bird;
found white rock in shape reminiscent of a Henry Moore;
4. broken pre-Columbian animal head;
brass octopus part of a samurai sword handle;
ancient ammonite fossil sliced to show spiral chamber formation;
5. in bottle, a segment of my initials-soundhole-rosette for guitar;
full pre-Columbian figure on plexi stand;
another sliced ammonite in a box; tiny bubble-level;
6. miniature Dutch cups;
7. wooden pawn from chess set I turned on a lathe;
small ammonite fossil; teeny ammonite fossil.
I’ve now sent off three missives within two days of each other that I realize express my unending delight in searching for ARTSY-like satisfactions.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART CEZANNE-WISE
On my artsys of August 17, 2016 I discussed my revolutionary discovery, excerpted below.
CEZANNE’S “ANGRY PATCH”
One day decades ago I was calmly—but with much interest—reading an article in the-then widely read American Artist magazine about one of my favorite painters, when I got on my emotional hobbyhorse. The author was obviously an authority on art and an admirer of Cezanne, but I was dismayed when I encountered his comment regarding a major painting:
“Cezanne…must have had moments of inattention, even of exasperation, in front of his canvas in the heat of Provence. What else explains that angry patch, quite out of tone, on the sky ?”
I wrote him a polite but firmly reasoned letter in care of the magazine and received a letter from him appreciating my well-considered thoughts, but still disagreeing with me. The magazine printed parts of our exchange, including this by me:
That is not an angry stroke but a consummate stroke of genius which, in Cezanne’s composition, culminates the movement of the eye up into the painting through a series of dark areas of diminishing size. Without that “angry” stroke the light mountain peak and sky would visually blend and the eye not move up the “realistic” picture to the peak….that dark stroke of genius ties the light band of sky to the rest of the composition.
The magazine also printed part of his disagreement. Although the article’s author didn’t suggest that Cezanne or any other artist was “crazy,” many people probably think that artists, if not crazy, tend to be overly emotional—irrational. I recognize that creators sometimes get mad or angry, but I doubt that they let that emotional state detrimentally influence their art.
It’s my understanding that Cezanne’s method of painting was a carefully thought-out process of checks and balances, where a brushstroke was followed by a stroke in another part of the canvas calculated to re-establish the compositional balance that the earlier stroke had altered. A carefully planned and executed intellectual organization.
I pursued my thinking about the matter and studied many other reproductions of Cezanne’s paintings of his La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. A good number of them feature dark brushstrokes in the sky near the mountain peak!
I sent off a letter to MOMA (In part), with inclusions:
Dear [Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture],
I have become aware of what I find to be a so-far-undescribed, important device that Cezanne several times used as a strategy to meld realistic depiction with his pictorial strategy. In some of his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, a distinctive stroke of paint brings the eye up toward the peak and also helps hold the sky onto the two-dimensional flatness of his canvass. I’m not aware of any previous analysis of Cezanne in which this is noted–although a side-by-side view of specific depictions of the mountain makes this obvious to me. Neither am I aware of any previous mention that the stroke is also a “realistic” depiction of a sometimes-occurring atmospheric condition that I describe.
I suggest that a marvelous and revelatory small exhibit showing side-by-side Cezanne paintings (and maybe John Marin’s related watercolors) would be both educational and entertaining.
I await a response.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
KRULLER MULLER’S VAN GOGH
When I did my Grand Tour of Europe driving my new VW Bug in 1966, I visited not only Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, but, hidden in the woods, the Kruller Muller Museum, chock full of Van Goghs. They had there, a 12 ½” X 13 ½” masterpiece I’d never before seen even in reproduction, “Willows at Sunset.” I bought a full-size reproduction I still have, hanging in my study.
I sent off an email to the Kruller Muller Museum (In part):
In 1966 I visited your museum and was delighted. I was especially amazed at a Van Gogh painting I had never seen in reproduction. I consider WILLOWS AT SUNSET to be probably Van Gogh’s greatest work.
My question is–I encountered this by accident–why is this masterpiece almost never reproduced?
I await a response.
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BRAIN PICKINGS MULTIPLE SUBJECTS
About a year past I encountered a website, “Brain Pickings—An Inventory of the Meaningful Life,” maintained by Maria Popova, (https://www.brainpickings.org)
It constantly delivers extended and illustrated essays on art, literature, scientific thinking, philosophy, and many other fascinating subjects.
(Just a few Brain Pickings topics:
Seven Life Learnings mobile; Emily Dickinson’s herbarium book pages.
The Glory of Books; quirky book illustrations of Alice in Wonderland;
Bodoni typeface pop-up)
I sent off an email to Brain Pickings (In part):
Dear Maria Popova,
I’ve just devoured your article on illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Many of your postings have fascinated me since I first encountered them about a year ago, and I admire you and thank you for your intelligent and artistic sensibility in your Brain Pickings endeavors.
I await a response.
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Does anybody else do this sort of investigation and pursuit?
I really think that everybody should.