Recently I saw a photo of a rusted toy truck.
I was immediately struck by its beauty.
The colors and even its tattered remnant were extraordinary! The wonderful oranges and the lopsided elegance of its misshapen remains—all created by decay.
I envisioned having it in our home full of arts and crafts, this decayed truck forever prominently displayed maybe, on a 7” X 12” X 1” high base of pristine white marble. Is it art, craft, trash?
It took decades for nature to make this living, elegant decay. Soon after seeing the photo I watched the YouTube video of its transformation—covered over by a master craftsman, who, with meticulous skills, made the relic into what it might have been when new—unimpressive and boring, encased–in a thin, simple, flat, modern, dull, squarish, black truck–irredeemably dormant, shrouded and forever dead. Apparently all this proud craftsman saw was a corpse to be brought to sterile life. The kind of thing, in all its workmanship, I would not even look at once.
What startled and dismayed me most in the video:
tidying up left-over rusty bits, no-longer-required,
shoveled to the trash.
Terminal assault. Esthetic sacrilege.
* * * * * * * *
I appreciate craft, with all its skill and sensitivity, separate
from what I hold to be on a higher level of human creativity–Art.
(Previously I’ve posted illustrated essays on my thoughts about the
uneasy relationship between arts and crafts:
My wife, Allison, whose intelligence and sensitivity I recognize to be above mine, disagrees. She believes that what I demean as mere “craft,” can be equal or superior to “art,” because it can combine both beauty and human function—two, so to speak, for the price of one. Despite our usual agreement on matters of taste in film, videos, etc., on this point we agree to disagree.
As an example, she refers to what we recognize as a very striking, truly beautiful hand-crafted water pitcher our good friend Peggy Cooper gave us decades ago as a wedding present. She is now long-gone and the pitcher is now broken but well-glued back together, so that its once dual-function as a thing of beauty and as a holder of water and flowers, now only functions for its beauty–and remembrance of our friend Peggy on that important day in our lives. Is our water pitcher both art and craft?
ART? CRAFT? BOTH?
I’ve written of Abraham Maslow’s studies of “self-actualization” before.
(See my www.shepquest.wordpress.com posts
of July 17, 2014 and July 23, 2014.)
Jean Shepherd enthusiast Dr. Edward Hoffman, who wrote the authoritative book about Maslow and his work, The Right To Be Human, contacted me upon reading my Shepherd book, and we have become friends, especially sharing our mutual interests in Shepherd and Maslow.
Recently, Dr. Hoffman gave me and my wife a signed copy of a workbook he and William C. Compton wrote, and this re-emphasized for me my interest in self-actualization.
I believe that one’s life is mostly determined by some combination of luck and skill. (I’ve been lucky to have had two important women in my life—my mother and my wife, Allison.) In my multifarious amusements, the combination of luck and skill has importantly affected me not once, but several times, namely: 1. my novels and poems; 2. designing exhibits for the American Museum of Natural History; 3. the influence of Jean Shepherd in encouraging me during my formative years to widely observe and analyze life around me, and then, rediscovering his importance in my life when I read his obituary in October, 1999; 4. remembering the important role my varied interests in the arts have meant, resulting in my writing and illustrating my nearly two-hundred “Artsy Fartsy” essays.
I realized that in different periods of my life, as I see it, some component of
self-actualization has been a part of my activities.
(Understand that I venture here into the audacious field that falls between
self-aggrandizement and false modesty.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In my earlier years, I wrote three novels, all unpublished—not for lack of trying. In 1987, Dodd, Mead & Company responded: “Thanks very much for sending RIO AMAZONAS. I liked the manuscript….I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere describing it as serious literature. Oh, it is that, but I wouldn’t tell anyone. Not much of that is being published. Instead, stress the adventure aspect….“ I also wrote scores of poems and occasionally tried to get a few published. I succeeded with two poems in the book, Magnetic Poetry–I blush to admit–which still can be found in bookstores and online. More importantly, in 1997, a Canadian poetry journal, Undertow, published two of my short poems. Here’s one:
* * * * *
Because of my combined interest in serious literature and my education in design, I found that I could understand curators’ scientific ideas, and thus increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding through my exhibit design. Most “designers” merely put objects in exhibit cases without enhancing the content—when I could, I expressed content and sometimes emphasized content by creating an environment for the material. An example of this–designing my first museum exhibit, in which, to organize and express the relationship between larger groupings of animals (phyla) and the subgroups (classes) into which they belonged, I used color, dimension, and juxtaposition. (one-fifth of the exhibit is shown here.):
(In 1970, on a New York State Grant, I spent a month in Western Europe
discussing exhibit design with museum directors and designers.
In 1980, on a Fulbright Senior Lecturer’s Award, I spent four months lecturing
in Spanish and advising at Lima, Peru’s National Museum of Anthropology.)
* * * * *
As my final museum design years wound down, diminishing my creative design possibilities, I discovered an important obituary—of Jean Shepherd. Rediscovering Shepherd led me to write the definitive book about him; transcribe, organize, edit, and have published a second book, focusing on his stories; writing two additional unpublished manuscripts of his stories/narratives; posting on my blog hundreds of illustrated essays about all aspects of his life and work. These works on Shepherd also led me to have published about him several articles in books and periodicals, as well as being interviewed several dozen times in the media.
* * * * *
As new ideas for my hundreds of thoughts and discoveries about Shepherd posted in my blog seemed to diminish a couple of years ago, I realized that my nearly lifelong questing and encountering scores of adventures in the world of the arts deserved exploring and “immortalizing” in an addendum to my Shep-quests–in several hundred illustrated essays, which I came to call “Artsy Fartsy.” Art, architecture, museum work, music, books, artists’ books, graphic novels, you name it! (The ultimate quest’s destination, I hope, would result in book publication.)
* * * * *
All of these personal adventures seem to me
to somewhat include aspects of a self-actualizing persona.
Theo, Jo, and Vincent van Gogh
(Vincent at 19, his only known photo)
A recent article has revealed the major contribution of
Jo van Gogh-Bonger
to our knowledge and appreciation of Vincent van Gogh.
Russell Shorto investigated and wrote the authoritative and elegant article (in the New York Times Magazine, April 18, 2021) about the major significance Jo van Gogh-Bonger contributed to our recognition of Vincent’s art and life. I, and probably most others, had not previously heard of her–and without her, we and the art world may never have heard of Vincent van Gogh.
Jo, Theo’s wife, upon reading letters from Vincent to Theo, and seeing hundreds of Vincent’s work in the family’s possession after his death in 1890, became convinced of his artistic genius. Despite her lack of background in the arts, and, at that time, the resistance in the art world to her being a woman, she devoted much of her adult life to promoting his work, and lived to finally see Vincent’s work accepted and revered.
I reproduce a few of Shorto’s comments in the article:
* * * *
My van Gogh quest.
Over 50 years ago, in 1966, traveling through much of Western Europe, questing to see the art and architecture I’d previously seen only in photos, I encountered in Holland a small brochure for a museum I’d never heard of, located in a woods about 50 miles south of Amsterdam. I drove to it in my new VW Bug and discovered that they owned the world’s second largest collection of van Goghs.
Glorying in the experience, the moment I encountered a somewhat small van Gogh: “Pollard Willows at Sunset,” I immediately recognized that it was my favorite of all the van Goghs I’d ever see in the original or in reproduction.
For some cause I’ve never understood, this artwork, this painting, seems rarely reproduced and thus is rarely known. (The small reproduction on the brochure’s cover had failed to sufficiently excite me.) I went immediately to the Museum’s shop, found a good-sized reproduction and bought it. Framed, it now hangs in my study.
I’ve found that the museum is named after Helene Kroller-Muller, who had purchased her first work by Vincent in 1908—just 3 years after Jo’s major show in Amsterdam. Thus, this woman, just as Jo van Gogh-Bonger, had also been in the vanguard of Vincent’s admirers and promoters.
Some time ago I created and described my “Guernica Colorization Kit.” In it I suggested that Picasso’s great mural, all in black, white, and gray, might be done in colored Crayolas. I included an outline drawing and—significantly–a revered critic’s comments on the importance of Picasso avoiding color in the work. Note that my “Kit” was meant to be a joke, denigrating the colorization of movies, artworks, etc.
On March 14, 2021 I posted on my www.shepquest.wordpress.com an illustrated essay about a recent travesty regarding Van Gogh, one of my favorite artists.
In our world, there are many instances contributing to the desecration of the holy essence of art. Now I must speak out. The following ad appeared Friday, April 9, 2021. Dylan Thomas must be spinning and groaning in his grave.
Over the last few months, I’ve encountered at least three of these ads in the New York Times for a lamp company’s product. Once was too much, the second added to the insult, and now here’s the third.
The beginning of the Dylan Thomas poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The poem is about the dying of his father; “light” and “day” are metaphors for life itself. (not about an electric lamp).
The ad is
Someone (was it Mark Twain?) is quoted as having said that he woke every morning and read the obituaries—if he was not featured, he went about his day’s business. Twain is quoted as saying that the report of his death was an exaggeration. In 1954, while on safari in Africa, Hemingway was erroneously reported dead after two plane crashes. It’s said that he enjoyed reading the obituaries of himself.
I always check the New York Times obituaries. To see if someone I’m interested in has died, and to encounter information about someone I’m not familiar with but about whom I may find interesting information.
It is how I first found out that Jean Shepherd had died (October 16, 1999). As I say in the introduction to my Excelsior, You Fathead! “Recently I’ve gotten to know him a lot better, beginning when I read his obituary in the New York Times, and realized that I’d lost an old friend. It was then that I recognized how much he had meant to me—and means now. And how important his art is to American culture.” This moment led to the last two decades of my obsession and my writing about him.
My most recent encounter of an obituary that has fascinated me was on April 1, 2021, when I read about poet and publisher of poets, Robert Hershon (obit by Neil Genzlinger). What got me most is his seemingly casual funniness and the “Hanging Loose Press” poetry journal he co-founded—loose mimeographed sheets that could be deleted, posted on your bulletin board, and etcetera.
Part of one poem, titled “F Stop”:
There’s another F
train right behind us.
that’s faster and finer
than this F train is.
It serves French fries
And frogs legs….
(See YouTube for video. It should be noted that Lady Gaga also did an exceptional performance
of our Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl.)
An unexpected work of art. I’m not a Lady Gaga fan.
But I was overwhelmed by her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.
It’s important to note that this was just two weeks after the January 6 insurrectionary assault on our Capital building and all it represents for our democracy and our country.
As always, there were political luminaries on the Capital platform. As usual there were millions of TV watchers/listeners, but out there at the Capital in real life, instead of hundreds of thousand of people, there were mostly flags (The” Star-Spangled Banners” the symbol of what, shockingly, we might have lost as a country.) Sometimes it’s said that democracy is a fragile thing and could be lost if not sufficiently guarded and cherished.
All of us have heard our Anthem sung hundreds of times at ballgames and other occasions. By opera stars, popular singers, and by ordinary folk who their friends think have “good voices.” For my considered thought and heart, those others just sing the words, well or badly, without patriotic soul.
But Lada Gaga is something else.
With the traumatic events of January 6 in all our minds,
Gaga gave us a pitch-perfect and strong version of our song.
But she did more than that. At appropriate moments, reminding us of our love of country and flag and what they mean, on that public platform she flung out her hand toward us and those flags above and behind as if to remind us all of what we might have lost, and indicating that it was still there—if we can keep it.
And one other elegantly artistic thing she did–with the final, significant word “Brave.” After her pitch-perfect performance, in that last phrase (reminding us of that January 6 near tragic glitch in our heritage), her final “Brave” note began off-pitch!!!. On purpose! And then confidently slid to the on-pitch finale. She had performed in our Anthem the off-pitch symbol representing our near-tragic calamity–and its positive resolution for our democracy. She ended the performance with sublime resolution, fulfilling the song–our patriotism and our aspirations again in-tune.
The effect reminds me of what City Lights bookstore owner and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is quoted as
having written about poetry: it should “arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song.”
We have survived. And Lady Gaga has bolstered our hearts and minds.
To the Editor [of the New York Times—
here, slightly modified by eb, the sender]:
“Regarding the article by Christina Morales on the Immersive van Gogh exhibits (March 8, 2021). Of the artists I consider the greatest of all time, such as Picasso and Michelangelo, I consider van Gogh among them. In my opinion, artworks should not be (pardon the word) screwed around with.“
“Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre. Wander through entrancing, moving images
Lose yourself in 500,000 cubic feet of monumental projections animating
that highlight brushstrokes, detail, and color….”
I HATE IT!
I HATE IT!
I HATE IT!
I HATE IT!
The important thing, folks, is to immerse oneself in the originals or (if necessary),good reproductions of the singular, wonderous works themselves! Distorting and rearranging them into some other media is a desecration.
* * *
Thanking the esthetic heavens above (and Google),
I eventually found negative reviews, including this one, excerpted below.
“Perhaps the point is to create an ‘experience’ for people who don’t go to art galleries to pretend that this is another way to appreciate art. It isn’t…. I hated every wretched moment of this tasteless, vulgar, cheap display trying to give us another way of appreciating the brilliant work of Vincent Van Gogh. The arrogance.”
THANK YOU, LYNN SLOTKIN!
I love PEPPA PIG, a simple yet sophisticated visual, with ironic,
clever, and forthright TV cartoon depiction
of children’s and adult’s mentality.
One day, surfing the kid “Channel 123” (easy for little kids to remember), I encountered HEY DUGGEE, with its over-the-top, Surrealistic/Dada visual wit, far outdoing PEPPA PIG in its artful style. (Both PEPPA and DUGGEE are produced by the BBC and meant for very little kids—sorta like me.) One might describe HEY DUGGEE as Magritte and Rousseau overwhelmed by Miro drawn with a circle guide and a straightedge.
* * *
Most people probably remember the plastic set of toy teeth that chatter. I remember having a set when I was a kid.
Most who watch Jean Shepherd’s film, A CHRISTMAS STORY remember that, as Miss Shields tells all her students to come up to her desk and surrender the small fake teeth they had in their mouths as a joke, she opens her desk drawer and there is a set of the teeth still chattering from some earlier confiscation.
Of interest to those obsessed with chronological accuracy,
the teeth were invented around 1949
but the A CHRISTMAS STORY depicts them being in Ms. Shield’s desk
in 1940. (The film itself was made in 1983.)
* * * *
Of interest to those obsessed with chronological accuracy, the teeth were invented around 1949,
but the A CHRISTMAS STORY depicts them being in Shield’s desk in 1940.) The film was made in 1983.Of interest to those obsessed with chronological accuracy, the teeth were invented around 1949, but the A CHRISTMAS STORY depicts them being in Shield’s desk in 1940. (The film was made in 1983
I just encountered a New Yorker documentary called “Eddy’s World,” about Adolph (Eddy) Goldfarb, an inventor of over 800 toys. THE FIRST WAS THE FAMOUS TEETH. When the film was made, Eddy was 98 years old and still inventing. His daughter, Lyn directed and produced the film.
Eddy is a genius and he was lucky–his new wife, Anita, agreed to financially support the family for two years while he invented. Eddy has some thoughts on creativity/invention:
I always knew I was going to be an independent inventor. And I chose toys.
I think that when you do creative work it’ll stimulate your brain. And that helps keeps your body healthy.
I annoy people with my optimism. People who, ‘why don’t you face reality and stuff?’ Well, I think I’m right. I think that being optimistic helped me a lot.
I started writing 100-word stories about eight or nine years ago. I’m working on my second 100. I get ideas for stories all the time.
Rising sun. Every day when I wake up I thank him, her, or it for this wonderful day.
EDDY IS ANOTHER SELF-ACTUALIZING PERSON
After my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD was published in March, 2005, I’ve had several delightful encounters from people I’d never heard of or had any connection with.
@ @ @
Jeanne Keyes Youngson, “The Vampire Lady.”
Sometime around 2010 I got an email from Jeanne, whom I’d not heard of, saying she had read my book, had been a “romantic interest” of Shepherd’s around 1956, and would like to discuss Shepherd with me. I visited her in her Washington Square penthouse apartment (One that anthropologist Margaret Mead had inhabited. I’d worked with Mead on her museum Pacific Hall.) Jeanne’s apartment was chockfull of Dracula and Bram Stoker books and other materials. She is the founder of the Vampire Empire fan club.
@ @ @
Dee Snider of “Twisted Sister“
In a bowling alley one day, the father of two of the youngsters there asked me what I did in my retirement and I said I’d written a book about Jean Shepherd. He said he was a big Shepherd enthusiast and so was his brother Dee Snider. He had to explain that Dee was the front man of the rock group “Twisted Sister,” and he then had to fill me in on who they were—the group who performed “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I said I’d love to talk about Shepherd with him. Not long after, a tall thin guy in black pulled up to our house in a black Hummer. It was Dee. We spent three hours talking about Jean Shepherd.
@ @ @
In 2004, too late to include it in my Jean Shepherd book, friends told me that they found a Seinfeld comment about Shep in the Season Six of Seinfeld’s DVD video collection where he talks about Shepherd’s importance: At last I had confirmation of what had been claimed: “[He] formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd.” In the green room of the Paley Center where Seinfeld was to speak about Shepherd’s style and importance, Seinfeld and I met. “I loved your book,” he said. “I love your TV program,” I said. He laughed.
@ @ @
Edward Hoffman re Abraham Maslow
On Feb 1, 2020 I received an email from Ed Hoffman, whom I’d never heard of:
How are you? I discovered your book on Jean Shepherd last week and immediately ordered it on Amazon. I read about 40 pages today and am thoroughly enjoying it!
I grew up in New York City and Jean Shepherd was my idol in my mid-teens…I listened to him every weekday night much to my parents’ consternation. They were both schoolteachers and thought of him as uncouth…He had a big influence on my life in his views of society….I am still impressed with his incisive social commentary from the 1960s, which affected me more than his childhood tales….
I am a clinical psychologist and have written more than 20 books including major biographies of Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow….Thanks again for a wonderful book!
What especially struck me is that Dr. Hoffman is the author of the biography of one of my heroes, Abraham Maslow, best known for his work on self-actualizing people. Ed Hoffman and I have had a number of intellectual encounters since his first email.
@ @ @
Who else might contact me regarding my Shep book? Bruce Springsteen?
Steven Page? Hemingway? E. E. Cummings? Mailer? Whitman? Melville?
Maslow? Dick Higgins? Virginia Woolf? Ingmar Bergman?
One never know, do one?