Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Ham Radio–Struck by Lightning-more & (96) ARTSY INTRO

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories Ham Radio–Struck by Lightning-more & (96) ARTSY INTRO


That’s all I remembered.  For at least thirty seconds.  Suddenly I come to and I’m sitting across the room next to the daybed.  My yellow polo shirt is scorched and my fingers are black.  For an instant I didn’t know what happened.  I thought maybe my power supply—I was always afraid those cheap electrolytic condensers I had were going to go up.  That’s what I thought happened.  I looked.  My rack and panel is gone!  Gone!  I mean gone!

My mother has rushed into the bedroom and she’s standing looking at me sitting there and I remember her words.  She says, “I told you you’d get a shock!”

Then I realized what had happened.  I had been hit by lightning.  Lightning had destroyed my entire rig.  And more than that!  There was a crack that went down from the ceiling all the way to the floor and the wall had been pushed out.  It was as though somebody had driven a truck inside of my room and it had run into the wall and pushed it out like the bow of a shop.  It was bent out!  I was sitting there stunned.

My mother saw the crack.  She said, “What are we going to tell your father?  We’re going to tell you father you broke the house.  You broke the house!  I told you you’d get a shock.  You broke the house!”

That was exactly what I did.  I had broken the house and as a matter of fact, the crack went from the second floor all the way to the basement.  The house was broken.

My old man came home and he flipped!  He said, “You did what?  You broke the house!”

I said, “Yeah, dad.”

Well, we only rented that house.  That night we moved out.  You don’t stay in a house when you’ve broken the house.  We never went back.




Is all this stuff true? Absolutely! Down to the last detail! There is not one bit of “fake news,” There is not any of the fictional bastardization scrambled unbeknownst into what should be matters of fact alone. Everything is true as presented. I swear! Someone, please, give me a lie-detector test!


I think of myself as just a regular guy (and a lucky one) whose parents encouraged me to pursue artistic and literary endeavors, who happened to be born in the capital of the art world, who read a lot, who went to schools that focused on art and design, went to lots of museums and art galleries, got a creative job in a non-profit cultural institution, chose to spend most of his left-over small income on books and artsy stuff, and, through listening to a guy on the radio who seemed to be my personal, intellectual mentor, got several books about him published.

What is art and what does it mean? Art is about who makes it, what you call it, how you look at it, and what some expert may say about it a century from now. Art is how it affects your mind and emotions. Art is about some new and intriguing expression regarding the artist’s perception of the world—in a way that’s personal to that artist and simultaneously true for the rest of us. Art expands our perception about what it is to be alive– and in and of our world. Which is to say that art is very serious and very important.

What can one say about art that hasn’t been said? Especially by an amateur. I took a freshman college lecture course on the history of art. Does that qualify me? (No) I’ve read books about art and I’ve collected scores of books about it. (No) I’ve got some art too—you know, Picasso, John Marin, Hokusai, cheap netsukes, African and New Guinea and pre-Columbian art, and good repros of a cool Henry Moore and Paleolithic “cave art.” (And I once touched Mr. Spock’s wax ear. Golly, that’s not art! But maybe it’s artsy?) All that qualifies me to be a high-level artsy-fartsy-ist, especially when I pay enough attention, or when I unexpectedly create my own engagements with our abiding, essential, coexistent, and alternate world we call ART, when I know how to recognize a good artsy situation, grasp it, and know how to spin it and deal it with word and image.

Although not a recognized “expert” in any field of the arts, I surmise enough to relate to many artsy subjects, and my wide-ranging interests nudge me to detect and delve into aspects worth pursuing. The pejorative “dilatant” suggests someone with superficial interests—that’s not me. “Amateur” is someone not paid to be engaged with his subject, and also (based on the origin of the word), one who loves his subject—that’s me!

For most of my life I’ve been a timid soul, but sometime a couple of decades ago, I decided that I was missing too much and that I should unchain my conservative self a bit and be more like an inquisitive kid. A bit childish. (Picasso said it took him a lifetime to be able to paint with the sensibility of a kid.)  Physically, I’m still timid—but I speak of the life of the mind and its unexpected happenstances. In a very minor experience at the end of a Carnegie Hall concert, I had the temerity to sneak onto the end of a line of folk who seemed to have some special sort of entre–and found myself behind-stage and into the dressing room, face-to-face, with the star of the show, the girl singer of my long-ago adolescent fantasies. Maybe this minor encounter is a useful metaphor for my whole artsy fartsy kit and caboodle.

My quirky commentaries are about some art that we have hanging around our house (or, like the “Venus de Milo,” just hanging around in my mind out there in the world)—that, for me has some unexpected backstory wandering through my consciousness, often based on an unexpected encounter. (Aren’t life and art strange and wonderful?) My decades of work at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and my widespread interests in the arts, has led to encounters I sometimes find in the arts I love. This book’s short commentaries aren’t meant to delve deeply into the essence of any art, but they describe unexpected experiences and little epiphanies that surround some basic fascinations.

An unexpected encounter in an art magazine led me to write and have published, a letter to the editor that eventually led me, purely out of curiosity, to discover in Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings, a repeated-by-him, obvious, important painterly aspect I’ve not found described elsewhere in writings about his work. Strange, wonderful. All those Cezanne experts had to do to realize what was in front of them as I did, was line-up  some of his images of the mountain and look with my innocent artsiness and they should have gotten it!

Emerging from my love of art and its essential force in my life, unexpected ideas and the passions they arouse never cease. One might describe Artsy Fartsy as a focused self-portrait in art. A kind of artsy autobiography. ‘Nuff said.




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