Can you remember—now think very hard—your absolute first day in school? You had one. If you say you can’t remember it’s because you’re really not concentrating. You did have a first day and it did make an impression on you. I can guarantee you that. Now the trick is to get that impression out so you can look at it. It’s like a pair of socks that you’ve lost in your apartment. Just because you can’t find them does not mean they’re not there. The trick is finding them.
I see the signs all over: BACK TO SCHOOL SPECIALS. Back to school. The sudden impact of—the bureaucracy, the organized, the communal world—that was outside. The thing that makes this such a traumatic moment in most peoples’ lives is that this is really their first personal involvement, where they have to take a place in that official world outside of the home. The average kid—he has his little thing going in the house, in his life. He sits down at the table and they give him his food, he eats his meatloaf, he goes out in back and plays with his friends. He’s got a little thing going. And all of a sudden a big finger comes out of the sky and points at him. “The time has come. Your time has come.”
Up to this time, all the other people in the family have been marching out. Every day the old man goes to work. Maybe there’s a sister of brother in the family who has always gone out and done this thing. It’s a mysterious thing that happens away from the house. They come back at night. All of a sudden, through the window comes a mysterious, ephemeral, ghost-like hand that points at little Clarence. Just points right at him. He’s sitting there eating his meatloaf and cabbage. Big hand points. “We want you.” And he looks up and says, “Who, me?”
“We want you. It is your time, Clarence.”
And Clarence is driven by vast forces of life, time, death and truth, history, convention—all of it. It’s all tied up in one big ball of wax and Clarence is about to really—experience—the first—major—irrevocable—total—complete milestone of his life. And from that day on—from that day on, oh, Clarence is swimmin’ in that same old, big ol’ river with the rest of us. Yeah, with the dead toads and catfish, the rushes and the mud, Clarence is swimmin’ in that great old riba, that riba called Mankind.
He has stopped bein’ a kid. He has moved out of that old mess and he is now one of us. Yeah. Sometimes Clarence drags his feet. Other times he tries to swim on his back, blow bubbles up at the sky. Then there are times he says, “Well, I’m gonna dive way down near the bottom and see what it’s like down there at the bottom.” And he dives down there. Then he’s gotta take a breath so he comes back up. And he floats along with all of us. Just drifting on down that great, big ol’ riba.
We’re not talking about nostalgia, friends. Get it out of your skull. Stop it. We’re not talking about the old days. Get it out of your bean. Stop it. We’s talking about L-I-F-E-E-E—life. There ain’t nothin’ like it. It’s the only thing we all got. And it’s the best thing we all got. You look up at that old sky once in a while and you say, “You know, there’s one thing that you gotta say about me: I’m walking’ around. And there’s a sky over me and I can see it. I can feel it, I can smell it. “
MORE FIRST DAY COMING
CEZANNE’S “ANGRY PATCH”
One day decades ago I was calmly—but with much interest—reading an article in a widely read American art 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 (E) ?”
Detail From Magazine
Showing their (E) Indicator.
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! Why? Certainly, in that same location, not all could be angry patches! Are they all, along with the thin dark line of paint at the peak of this particular painting, a help in tying the peak to the rest of the darker composition? Details, details! See some details below. I’m convinced that this was part of Cezanne’s strategy.
Details–of the Painting in Question and Some Other Cezanne
Mt. St. Victoire Paintings with Dark Patches/Strokes Near the Peak.
Pursuing the matter further, I found that there’s an atmospheric condition which causes clouds to sometimes form near mountain peaks. “Mountain-induced Cumulus” and “Mountain-induced Stratiform.” Pardon the technical jargon—I’m only interested in the atmosphere up there if it affects an artist’s work: “Orthographic stratus clouds form as winds flow up a mountain and down the other side. [etc.]”
A Lenticular Cloud in New Mexico.
Sometimes, Instead of a Cloud,
He Used Tree Branches.
Am I arguing over an esthetic pebble annoying me in my idealistic slippers? I don’t think so. Given that all of us, including the greatest artists, sometimes emotionally lose it in their lives—but, that an irrational slash of paint by Cezanne was a faulty artistic response is not right. Especially as this particular painting is one of his acknowledged masterpieces. I believe I’ve shown that the critic’s analysis is an honest-but-total misunderstanding. Cezanne’s strong painterly statements are accurate responses to nature’s clouds, and are esthetically successful, albeit forceful, responses to the painter’s problem of what must be a commonplace landscapist issue—a sky that is not pulling its own pictorial weight in the upper stratum needs a painterly assist.
Self Portrait, 1895,
of Dark Paint Strokes
Above His Dome.
[Searching through several erudite and weighty volumes in my bookcase of reproductions and analysis of Cezanne’s work, as well as the Internet, I’ve found no reference to his frequent darker strokes by the peak of his revered mountain. Very strange! Do I need to skim more thoroughly? Surely others—more perceptive and knowledgeable than I–must have noted the relationship between Cezanne, the peak, and the clouds transformed into painterly patches.]