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But it was a car the way you would never conceive of cars being. The difference between Ettore Bugatti’s 57SC and what we would consider a beautiful car today is the difference between one of those dollar coffee mugs that you buy with a picture of Donald Duck on the side, and a silver chalice turned out by Botticelli—to add style to the life of a Venetian grand duke, to the great world, a whole cultural world. In fact it sort of spanned time. Ettore Bugatti was a Renaissance artist who somehow had been reincarnated in the twentieth century, and he lived a baronial style. As a great artist should.
And he had helpers and devoted assistants who worshipped the ground he walked on. His factory was in France, not in Italy, but in France, and the Bugatti enclave is legend today among people who know anything about twentieth century art. And every car was turned out with a kind of care, love, and total artistry that, say, a Rembrandt would turn out his work. And incidentally, a Rembrandt also had his apprentices who would fill in the background and deal with the little details—or did you know that? Oh, yes. And so Bugatti—Ettore Bugatti–created this fantastic method, and I’d never heard of him! I just knew there was this thing called “foreign cars.” I didn’t realize that there was one man to whom a car was not a car, and he spoke in a universal language. It was an art—pure and simple. Ettore Bugatti.
Amazing how varied the simple wedding ceremony can be from couple to couple.
I married my Spanish wife in her church of the patron saint of Granada,
Spain, Nuestra Senora de las Angustias.
I translate that as “our lady of the anguishes.” Very sadly ironic as, for four years, starting on our honeymoon, I experienced anguish and cried nearly every day. I felt obligated to be tolerant of her traditional Spanish belief that people and cultures with different customs were inherently evil, and that some day she would recognize that I was not the Devil. (Note the fierce violence of the Spanish Civil War.) That ended on the Sunday morning as I was contentedly working on the construction of my Spanish classical guitar in our finished basement when she descended the stairs and threatened me with a carving knife. I defended myself with the rolled-up Arts Section of the Sunday Times. Did this really happen to meek, mild, innocent little Eugene B. Bergmann? Yes.
The next act of our anguish-filled, real-life Garcia Lorca tragedy, was narrated to me by the Queens County Sheriff:
He arrived at the house my parents had paid for and found my then-former wife at a second floor window threatening him with a pistol. He retreated and returned with a squad of the local police in bullet-proof vests. They broke in the front door, rushed up the stairs, and disarmed her—it was a toy plastic pistol. As she did not go gently, they had to remove her in a strait jacket.
I restrain myself from describing further scenes, but did gain from my Spanish experience: some little insight into the interior life of Andalucía; and inspiration for one of my unpublished novels.
Allison and I connected through a personal ad.
As one might note, folks, I robbed the cradle.
Encountering Allison and falling in love at first phone call, we wed on the first anniversary of our first date in a delightful, traditional church in Rutherford, NJ. We had the reception at a Jersey Ramada Inn’s elegant atrium complete with tropical plantings and a pool. A string quartet provided classical music.
We’ve been married for over 31 years.
Our younger son, Drew, met Linda in college. They’ve been significant others for 10 years. They were wed in June, 2018 in an outdoor ceremony and reception, complete with large backyard plantings, enormous tent for protection, and an inviting pool.
Brian, our close family friend since he was born, officiated. Years ago he’d told his family that he felt the calling and he began services with a few attendees in their family room. Soon he had a wife, two sons, and a crowded church. His congregation, CenterPoint, moved to a former synagogue on Jerusalem Avenue where he has about a thousand members. (They now have two other Long Island locations.) On the large front stage they have a Christian rock group in attendance, and are backed by three enormous video screens. Brian is forceful, entertaining, informative, and very personal in his talks to his congregation. I much admire his natural persuasiveness.
Brian performed a traditional, yet personal and loving ceremony. Linda and Drew read their own loving decorations to each other, the content of both bringing a surprising, wonderful, and emotional jolt to all.
Part of their declarations:
Linda, I love you because of your tenacious attitude, beautiful smile, and unique sense of humor. You are the only thing I need when the silk is rough, when the open road looks closed, or when I’m unemployed, broke, and wearing a linen suit. And most of all I can’t live without you because of how you make me whole every single day I am with you.
Linda, I vow to: Continue to dedicate myself to you first because without a strong US our family cannot survive
I vow to: Be a good father; Keep our family safe; Listen to your every need and desire; And become rich together, not just in monetary wealth, but family and emotional riches as well.
Drew, Out of all the many great loves stories out there, ours is my favorite Out of the 10 years we’ve been together there have been two of my favorite days. 1. The day u told me you loved me and 2.Today.
And it wasn’t because anything crazy happened, it was because of the way I felt.
So when things aren’t always so easy, like when u pretend to be awake and have a conversation with me, or when u take all the blankets. I promise to hold on to this feeling
I vow to always root for you, support you, bring out the best in you, I vow to grow old with u I vow to share my crazy dreams with you, I vow to make more favorite days with you.
You’re my best friend, lover, father to our daughter. I vow to continue to make our story the best love story.
I danced with the bride, I danced with the groom.
For all his success, Pastor Brian has remained (to my delight) a child at heart. As evening fell, Brian and Drew agreed to a little wrestling match to see who could throw the other in the pool. The moist result shows that they both won.
An important participant in the festivities was Linda and Drew’s
six-month-old daughter, the most beautiful baby in the world.
CHARLI GRACE BERGMANN
I’ll never forget the day that I had the great awakening regarding an art form. Even today, in this country, there are very few people who recognize this as an art form.
I suspect that quite possibly in maybe five-hundred years they may look back on our country, and there will be preserved examples of this great form which we created. I suspect also that we have created a form which is now rapidly in decline. Around the early quarter of the twentieth century a new form was created and it existed briefly for about ten or twelve years in its really flowering way, and then it began to decline as all art forms do.
Up to the point when I’d discovered this form, I’d been a walking-around-ignorant. And in large part I still am today. I was going to the University of Cincinnati and I had a job and I was doing other things and I was just beginning to see that there was more to the world than Flash Gordon and more to drawing than Prince Valiant. I was beginning to suspect things. We go through this period when we begin to see things that we never really realized. That the world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top. We begin to see how fantastically varied and infinitely complex it is. I suppose that’s called “maturation.”
NETSUKE HARE WITH AMBER EYES
I recently encountered a book that refers to netsuke ownership, only this one concentrates on the rich Jewish family that had 264 fine netsuke, bought together by their forebears as a collection. When they were persecuted by the Nazis, the pieces were hidden by their maid and, after World War II, were returned by her to the family. I got the book from the library and found that the biographer, a member of the family, is a highly regarded English ceramicist who decided to use their netsuke collection, which he now owns, as symbolic of his family history and their love of the arts. Up front, I must admit that, though I consider the Holocaust to have been the most horrific tragedy in human history, and I’m in sympathy with this family’s art-filled and tragic story, my focus regarding this book is its relationship to netsuke and how the author elegantly and metaphorically shaped his story by using those netsuke.
Among the multitude of important reviews: “A winning hybrid, a rueful family memoir, a shining meditation on loss and the reverberating significance of cherished objects….” —The Atlantic
Throughout the book de Waal describes his family and netsuke collecting. He comments that netsuke represent all aspects of traditional Japanese culture and life—and his netsukes will come to represent aspects of his family’s life. Each time he writes of netsuke and picks one up to hold, fondle, and examine, he connects the art to his family history, always metaphorically:
They are always asymmetric, I think with pleasure. As with my favorite Japanese tea-bowls, you cannot understand the whole from a part.
When I am back in London I put one of these netsuke in my pocket for a day and carry it around. Carry is not the right word for having a netsuke in a pocket. It sounds too purposeful. A netsuke is so light and so small that it migrates and almost disappears amongst your keys and change.
I realize how much I care about how this hard-and-soft, losable object has survived. I need to find a way of unravelling its story. Owning this netsuke—inheriting them all—means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them. I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie.
What they [the Japanese] could do was everyday life. And emotion. It was these emotions that entranced Kipling when he first saw netsuke in Japan on his travels in 1889.
Did he [the author’s ancestor] fall in love with the startlingly pale hare with amber eyes, and buy the rest for company?
It is not just things that carry stories with them. Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way this netsuke….
The author, opening the protective glass door of his netsuke vitrine, uses that vitrine itself as a metaphor–a kind of opening up this personal memory-gatherer for his stories/netsuke. He includes a photo of a vitrine in the book, but it’s distant and fuzzy, so one cannot see any of the contents. And he comments :
Netsukes cannot knock around your salon or your study unprotected….The vitrines exist so that you can see objects, but not touch them: they frame things, suspend them, tantalize through distance….But the vitrine—as opposed to the museum case—is for opening. And that opening glass door and the moment of looking, then choosing, and then reaching in and then picking up is a moment of seduction, an encounter between a hand and an object that is electric.
The night I returned the library book, I woke at four A. M., wrote a dozen notes to myself in the dark, and knew that I was possessed. Obsessed with the how, what, why of this book. Photocopies I’d made of some of the library book’s pages were not enough—I had to possess, tangibly, the entire volume in my hands. I bought a paperback and deposited it in my own netsuke vitrine. (Its cover has nine tiny photos of netsuke, including, below the title, a small one of the hare.) Now I hope I possess enough of the story. As de Waal’s netsuke evoke his family’s life, my small netsuke collection might represent an example of my artsy life. Here is my mixed-bag vitrine:
* * * * * * *
Eduard de Waal’s evocations of his family uses strong, forceful words about the idea of their netsuke as metaphor, but I believe he recognized that photos of the little sculptures amid the text would make them too visually tangible and thus distracting focal points–among the book’s interior illustrations, there is not one of a netsuke—not even of the one that gives title to the book. I searched the Internet and found images and short videos of de Waal discussing the book—they include a photo of his hare:
Nancy takes one of the snails and says, “Oh, these are so wonderful.” She takes one out of its shell and I see how she does it. She takes this little fork and she fishes one of these things out, and it looks strange, you know—like a little black snake or something. She pulls it out and puts it in her mouth—“Oh!”
Here is this beautiful girl. What am I going to do? I can’t chicken out.
So I say, “Oh, they look very good, hee hee.” I’m feeling sick inside. With the little fork I fish the little thing out. I put it in my mouth. I go, “uuushup!” I taste it. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is so good I can’t believe it!
Then I go the other way—I make a total pig of myself. I eat all the snails up so quick—kiwkiwkiwkiwghkiw! I mean, they’re gone!
And then the lesson hit me. I looked around. I saw all these other people—they’ve been doing this all of their lives! They weren’t surprised at snails. And it began to sneak up on me—what other terrible stuff did I learn at home? What other things do I think are awful? Just because it was back in the kitchen that way, you know? I ate the snails.
Late that night, lying in the dormitory room, I felt those snails—you could taste them. There’s an aftertaste. And I began to suspect that night that there was a fantastic, unbelievable world out there. And I was just be-gin-ning to taste it! Just beginning! God knows where it would lead!
ARTSY, WHAT ARTISTS SEE, ANTHONY BOURDAIN
From pure abstraction to almost pure representation.
A representative sampling.
* * * * * *
My Artsy Fartsy is an illustration of the variety of peripatetic experiences
I’ve had in the world of art.
* * * * * *
WHAT ARTISTS SEE
I recently encountered What Artists See When They Look At Art, a book illustrating short, illustrated essays by artists discussing art they especially respond to at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Peripatetic experiences. The comments are often unexpected, yet perceptive. Maybe artsy. The book’s introduction comments: “[The artists] know how to unpack a work not only analytically but also emotionally. They have a way of making it personal. Some of them speak about an epiphany,…”
* * * * * *
In the early morning of June 8, 2018 I was shocked to tears
when I learned that Anthony Bourdain had died.
I’d not known anything about him when, a couple of years ago, I encountered his CNN television series, PARTS UNKNOWN. I became fascinated by this former chef traveling to “unknown” places to indulge in the local cooking while casually conversing about the customs, social issues, and distinctiveness of matters particular to those with whom he was sharing a meal. The meditative cooking-and-travel combo intrigued me with its unusual form and content. It was as though the food ingredients themselves, and how they were prepared into the mix, represented a concoction of that particular culture that was special to it. He seemed a kind of perceptive—not a casual—flaneur, but I didn’t realize the special connection I had to his way of encountering the world, until that morning when I heard the eulogies and commentaries.
The New York Times essayist James Poniewozik wrote (6/8/18, appearing in the 6/10/18 paper edition) in the first and last parts of his elegant tribute:
Anthony Bourdain understood that eating was simply a way of taking the world inside you.
Mr. Bourdain, whose death was announced on Friday, took a lot of the world inside him in his 61 years on Earth, as a chef and a culinary enthusiast. As a TV host, he shared it with his audience. His globe-trotting, globe-eating series were full of wonder, humor and lusty eating pleasure. But above all, they were about people, for whom food is the most intimate form of expression.
…. He presented learning about the world as an obligation and an unbelievable adventure, something we’re ridiculously lucky to be able to do.
More than a travel guide, more than a food host, Mr. Bourdain was an evangelist of the senses. We’re each given a vehicle, the body, to explore the world, and a set of instruments — touch, smell and especially taste — with which to take in information.
It’s painful to know that Anthony Bourdain’s trip has ended. But he left behind one hell of a travelogue.
In PARTS UNKNOWN, the introductory visual of Bourdain’s television series, sets the mind to the strangely cubistic, yet realistic collage of audio and visual assonance to come. The introduction’s vivid red, jagged lines and unexpected effects alert us that we are about to see a travel adventure infused by a quirky and artsy sensibility. Unexpectedly, we’re being taken to parts unknown, to parts we thought we knew, and we’re in for an occasionally wacky but intelligent and informative exploration that is, in its essence, an artistic representation. An artsy form I hadn’t known existed. Such a deep humanity, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, so that “art” might seem for it a slightly lesser descriptive term.
Through Anthony Bourdain I’ve come to realize that I may
never again be able to receive, process, and write about
the world of art in the same, simple, prosaic way again.
Bourdain and President Obama
discussing food and the world
over beer and noodles in Hanoi.
A recent Internet exchange:
Eugene B Bergmann Bud, thank you for your comment. Bourdain’s death has affected me more than have those of other heroes of mine such as Hemingway, Picasso, Mailer, etc.
Bud Painton You’re welcome, Gene. The fact that this is the way you feel in comparison to the mentioned immortals for whom you held great regard speaks volumes.
Eugene B Bergmann With his extraordinary projection of his humanity, his sensibility, I feel such communion with him–and, with this, in his death, I am reminded so forcefully of my own mortality.
We move into the next room and we’re all sitting down at this big, beautiful table—white tablecloth and the crystal and linen and all that. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. And then it comes!
Nancy, sitting next to me says, “Have you had any of the fresh escargot this season yet?”
I say, “What? Oh yeah.” Well, yes, yes, it’s a good season, hee hee.” You know, faking it all the way. And the next thing I know, in front of me is this plate of something which had always been rumored in our house that people somewhere, someplace, ate. And we never really believed it! And whenever it was mentioned they ate these things—“Oh, ugh!”
A plate of snails! With the little forks. Oh my God, snails! Snails! Ugh! And instantly inside of me—my meatloaf insides are immediately saying, “Oh, ugh, oh my God, this is all incredible!”
COMPACT LIKE A COILED RAT
What’s an authentic, what’s faux, a good netsuke, a bad netsuke? Right after World War II, Americans in Japan could buy from destitute Japanese, a handful of authentic netsuke for a couple of dollars. Today, ebay shows over four thousand “netsuke” for sale, most inaccurately described –and indeed, most of them faux, made for the innocent/ignorant/unwary. It’s difficult to find even a fairly decent one on the market for under $500 dollars. The faux (tiny, realistically carved recently made objects) can be gotten for under ten dollars and maybe (outrageously), for a couple of hundred. Among the easily discernable indicators are descriptions of “cute” or “bunny rabbit.” I confess that some of my early purchases are modern faux. (there are a few quality, modern carvers.)
Good netsuke are usually considered as having been used with traditional Japanese attire, and thus, are generally compact, so that outlying parts can’t easily break off during normal wear. Coiled unto themselves, some in a near-fetal position for self-protection. For me, an ultimate example is the often repeated style of a coiled rat. They were frequently made by the very highly regarded carvers named Masanao (18 and 19th century). Some can be encountered by googling “Masanao rat.” Here are a few, varying in ear shape, front toe positions, tail configuration, etc.:
Masanao 18th and/or 19th C.
My much less expensive copy is said to have been made by the modern,
last-of–the-family-line of Masanao carvers:
I’ve managed to buy a couple of inexpensive, older, authentic netsuke. A couple have pre-20th century dates attributed by major auction galleries. Occasionally I’ll encounter one that I’m rather sure is “real” based on a couple of attributes: style; some wear-and-tear through normal use (minor wear and patina are often a positive attribute).
The evolution of netsuke appears to have begun when people used some found object such as a tree root to use as a toggle that keeps the hanging object on a cord from slipping from the sash to which it’s attached. The esthetics of choice evolved over two centuries to the myriad subjects chosen and carved. When I encountered a netsuke made of the stag antler part between it and the deer’s skull (called the “pedicle”), I recognized it as an interesting example of an esthetic form harking back to netsuke’s natural beginnings. I believe it’s “authentic” because no modern carver-for-mass-market would waste his time on such a non-commercial effort–it’s not a cute little, realistic statue. Here are both sides of it:
The saw marks, and the metal flower motif on both sides
for the cord’s attachment hole, are the only non-natural elements.
He says, “Well, I’m marrying Stella. And you’re invited. We’re getting married the Monday after graduation.”
I say, “Bolis, you don’t know her. Gee, she looks like a nice girl, Bolis.”
“It’s good. Nice girl.”
I say, “Yeah, very nice.”
And Bolis says, “Yes, I believe she is a very nice girl.”
“Bolis, how’d you get together?”
“My mother and father got together with her mother and father and decided we should be married.”
I say, “Oh. She never knew about you?”
“Oh, yes, I guess my mother and father must have spoken to her mother and father about us, but, we’re going to be very happy.”
And I was ushered out into the darkness. With my baseball glove in my left hand and my baseball in my right. But, I will say one thing—I was wearing my White Sox cap a little straighter.
I walked out into the darkness. I could smell the spring flowers just beginning to bud. Overhead the sky arched with a million stars, and somewhere, a mile or two over the horizon, the Great Lake that we had bathed in and played on lo these many years, sent a soft fragrance of spring through the air. It was then that I knew—our scragging days were over forever. Forever and ever.
[END OF PART 10.]
Final 2 stories to come. Shep the kid develops into a man.
DON McLEAN BREAKS A STRING, ETC.
Don McLean’s “American Pie” is one of my favorite songs.
(I also very much like his “Vincent” and “Dreidel.”)
I’ve seen him perform live three times.
One of those times was in a small church basement in Manhattan, where there must have been a hundred or less in the audience. I had my sheet music of “American Pie” with me and asked him to sign it. At first the pen didn’t work and, to get it started, he squiggled twice on the page—and I winced—he was marring it! He then signed it with a flourish beneath. So I have his signature, his flourish, and his two authentic squiggles.
The first time I’d attended a live concert of his was at Carnegie Hall in 1973.
Another of my major memories was his television performance on Austin City Limits (1982?). The You-tube of the song doesn’t have the purity and finish of the official recording, and it’s blurry, but it has the vigor of a live performance and McLean’s reaction to a damn string.
With backup instrumentalists, he began singing “American Pie.” In the middle of it, one of his guitar strings broke but he kept singing–while wrenching out the broken string, picking up packets of replacement strings, installing a new one and tuning it. So without having hesitated he continued singing and playing his restrung guitar to the song’s conclusion.
It was a glorious moment in the immortal life of “American Pie.”
He did this so smoothly and seemingly unperturbed—with what I refer to as
total ARTSY FARTSY aplomb.
I remember another moment.
In the era of CD audios I bought one of his “greatest hits.”
In it, disc producers had truncated “American Pie.”
I guess 8 minutes was too long to fit with the rest on the disc.
I flung it into the garbage and bought a complete version.
I say, “Yeah.” I’m standing here with my baseball glove and I’ve got a baseball with tape on it. Which is even more embarrassing. I didn’t bring my Sunday baseball, the one without the tape. My tennis shoes, my sweatshirt that says Bluebird Tavern number 12, I’ve got my White Sox cap on sideways.
Bolis says, “Would you care to have a glass of wine?”
Wine! What is this?! I’m still vaguely deciding whether Nehi Orange is or is not better than Ovaltine.
“Would you care to have a glass of wine? Sit down.”
So the four of us sit very stiffly. Mrs. Rutkowski, Stella, Bolis, and me at the kitchen table, and all the while I can see the people having this party. I can see a long table with turkeys and stuff all over.
Bolis turns to me and says, “I’m glad you came over tonight, Shep. I’m very pleased. This is a very important moment of my life, and this is the night that I met Stella, and we’re pleased that you’re coming to our wedding.”
This is the night he met Stella! They’re gonna get married! I lean over to Bolis while Stella and his mother are talking in Polish. I whisper, “Bolis, what’s this all about?”
He nudges me. Five minutes later, Stella and Mrs. Rutkowski go out to the guests, and there’s only me and Bolis in the kitchen.
I said, “Bo, what is this about?”
WATCHING FOR A TELLTALE LIMP
Among recent New York Times photos that seem to be more eye-catching, quirky, and dramatic than they used to be, is the recent front page image of the Saturday sports section. It’s a photo of (part of) the Preakness favorite, Justify, the article describing the potential problem with a leg. For me, the 10” X 10” image, is a very good and clever way to graphically make an attention-catching statement—nothing but four legs in the air going over a watery place on a practice course. What an extraordinary picture!
I say, “Bolis told you he’s getting married?! And you didn’t ask him who he’s marrying?”
He says, “Yeah, I asked him.”
“Well, who is it?”
“He doesn’t know.”
I say, “Bolis doesn’t know? Who he’s getting married…Aw, common, Schwartz. You’re puttin’ me on! Aw, crying’ out…”
He says, “No, I’m not kidding! He’s getting married and he doesn’t know who he’s marrying!”
I say, “Wait a minute, Schwartz.” I can see this—when you get to know a guy real good, you know when he’s not kidding. And Schwartz is not kidding. I say, “Now wait a minute, Schwartz, you tell me that Bolis is getting married and he doesn’t know the girl he’s marrying?”
And Schwartz says, “That’s right.”
“Are you sure he’s not putting you on?”
“No, he is not. He told me he’s getting married and his brother told me he’s getting married, and they asked me if I wanted to come to the wedding. And they said that I should invite you and Flick, and Bruner if he wants to come.”
Man, this is serious! We’re invited to the wedding! When they start talking like that!
NY TIMES PHOTO COMPOSITIONS
I’ve previously described some of what I categorize as “The New York Times Newspaper Wars.” Esthetically pleasing photos of often sad/horrific events. How does one view such things? How does one come to terms with the attractive visual appeal versus the often tragic event that’s depicted with such thoughtful, artistic care?
Such responses sometimes evoke another question. Is an elegant pictorial effect purely a matter of being in the right place at the right time and recognizing the visual appeal? Although sometimes one might wonder if the result is such a felicitous happening or if a photographer assists the image by positioning the objects or posing the people. With Henri Cartier-Bresson, I trust that his photos aren’t posed. Cartier-Bresson is noted for his black and white images that seemed to capture a scene at The Decisive Moment, as a book of his photos is titled in English. Although some of his work can be called reportage, more importantly it is photography as art.
Three of Cartier-Bresson’s Best Known Photos.
An Internet site quotes part of his introduction to The Decisive Moment, and I quote part of that in its English translation:
In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment on the way in which life itself unfolds. But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance.
Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.
The photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives by a slight bending of the knees.
Sometimes it happens that you stall, delay, wait for something to happen. Sometimes you have the feeling that here are all the makings of a picture – except for just one thing that seems to be missing. But what one thing? Perhaps someone suddenly walks into your range of view. You follow his progress through the viewfinder. You wait and wait, and then finally you press the button – and you depart with the feeling (though you don’t know why) that you’ve really got something.
Although some of his images are striking in their composition, it’s that essential moment infused with a human situation that takes precedence. In a way, that captured moment seems a fundamental essence of what photography can uniquely do.
While appealing to the eye, a newspaper photo’s purpose is to report an event expressed in a pictorially truthful way. In some of the photos that strike me forcefully in The Times or elsewhere, I wonder if some parts of what is so striking in the composition were carefully shifted or even placed into the view by the photographer to improve the result. A recent image, front page, May 8, 2018, brought this question to mind. I’m not in any way suggesting that the photographer did this—I simply don’t know—I’m simply in admiration regarding the final achievement. I’d like to believe that the photographer, like Cartier-Bresson, purely found the decisive moment and captured it.
I like the way the composition uses the hammock pole’s framing from upper left, slightly tilted downward as it moves to the right, and with a hammock part there angled down toward the middle. They break–the image so asymmetrically, placing the sad woman with the small child to one side. The woman on the far left in red forms a visual balance to the red-bloused woman and child, yet the rope hanging down on the left somewhat dulls that red, allowing the red-bloused woman and child on the right to dominate. And how convenient that red bowl, below, between them and almost in the middle—it forms with them three corners of a triangle of red pieces while also filling the foreground with an object of interest that prevents the whole composition from falling out the bottom. The seated woman, who looks toward the woman on the right, helps focus our attention on her. The scene is dramatically composed in sunlight and shadow.
The Times lately has been using bigger, more dramatic photos
and more interesting graphics in its pages.
We were seniors. We were about to graduate. It was the middle of March, and the last day of April was the day we were going to get measured for our caps and gowns. There was a lot of talk about that. They’d already taken orders for the rings. We were running around with our little invitations for who we were going to invite to the senior prom. There was a lot of worry about that and I had a big argument at home about whether I could use my old man’s car. I had this rotten car.
So we were in that long, sliding, upward glide going inevitably toward graduation day. The four years are behind us. Me and Bolis and Schwartz and Flick hanging around talking about what we’re going to do after we graduate. We’ve got all these comments we’re making about each other’s rings, robes, and stuff.
And then one day. I’m walking along the street. I remember it vividly—because—well, certain memories are etched in your mind. The way tattoos are etched on your epidermis. Schwartz is walking towards me. It is about an hour after school and I’m on the ball team and we’ve been having our afterschool practice session, which was cut short because the ground was wet. I’ve got my baseball shoes with me, I’ve got my glove, I’ve got my little green airline sack full of other junk, sweatshirts and stuff, and I see Schwartz, and Schwartz had just finished his paper route, and Schwartz is walking towards me and I know the minute that I see him that something is wrong. His face is white.
At the top of my www.shepquest.wordpress.com home page is a topic button titled ABOUT. It contains my description of what I continually hope the blog will be, including this comment: “I encourage everyone to submit ideas, information, and questions to this blog so we can all learn by participating in open discussions regarding every aspect of Shepherd’s creative world.”
I began the blog in February, 2013 and hope to continue it for quite a while. Over the last year or so I’ve been adding illustrated essays on the arts I’ve been involved in: ARTSY FARTSY. That artsy section has about come to a close, simply because, after 158 essays on various topics, I have little else to relay.
Just as I began a draft of this essay I received a comment from a follower of the blog, who writes in part: “Just want you to know that I have enjoyed all your writings that I have read — your Shep books, and your writing in this column. I was surprised at your Artsy Fartsy writings because I never knew of your interest in these things.” Her comments are very gratifying! Another follower had earlier commented that my artsy essays suggested that I am a “Renaissance Man.” Of course I’m flattered—but my insufficient creative inventiveness precludes such an exalted title (no flying machine inventions, no “Mona Lisa” portraits).
I thank all of you who have encouraged me in my Shep and Artsy posts. I recognize that, in our vast world, it’s unlikely that everyone would be conversant or even enthusiastic regarding many of my specific subjects. Now that there are few if any artsys left to post, besides the joy in doing them that I’ve expressed before, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. I’d expected to pique sufficient interest to elicit more replies, to arouse enough interest for some to pursue the subject a bit and respond to the essays with their thoughts, either positive or negative. Following are a few of the artsy topics I’ve covered and the sort of responses I still hope for. (Note that my Shep essays on Bugatti and Dee Snider I find especially relevant to my artsy accumulation.)
A FEW OF THE POSTED ARTSY SUBJECTS I’VE HOPED TO INTERACT ABOUT
GUERNICA COLORIZATION KIT: what is the nature of historical depictions of violence and how is “Guernica” a good or bad response to that? Is that Picasso guy worth all the adulation?
CEZANNE’S ANGRY PATCH: I believe my discovery of Cezanne’s way of sometimes solving his pictorial space is significant. Doesn’t anyone have any thoughts that they’d like to share about the successes and failures of artists such as Cezanne and Picasso?
EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE: My somewhat preference for emotion over technique in art must produce some agreement or disagreement. Any pros or cons?
ART OR CRAFT: Are there worthwhile distinctions? What is the nature of art, the nature of craft, and how do they relate? Show and tell me, please.
SCULPTED LANDSCAPES: Machu Picchu enthusiasts? Vietnam Memorial lovers or haters? Even Scottish golf links! Is Mount Rushmore art? Comments? Other examples?
ARTISTS’ BOOKS: They constitute a wide, yet insufficiently acknowledged world. Discussion? Other examples?
GRAPHIC NOVELS: Can they be art? Other examples? Most all book reviews of them I’ve read merely discuss the visuals as illustration to the text—so ignorant, so unfair!
CAVE ART: After decades seeing reproductions and photos, holding the originals in one’s hand! Any thoughts/experiences from other fields of interest? How is the experience of originals different?
FLUTES: Through the sound holes, feeling one’s living breath on one’s fingertips—any other such experiences with musical instruments? Jean Shepherd occasionally, with whimsy, commented on what it’s like to play a sousaphone/tuba.
DEE SNIDER OF TWISTED SISTER: Any opinions on his act and the seeming distinctions between act and ideas in his “The Price”? (The song focuses on the price one pays for the means it can take to pursue one’s aspirations.)
“SUMMERTIME”: What is the nature of interpretation that changes the original “artwork”? This should open up discussion of the whole nature of jazz.
Upon being shown the YouTube of Billy Stewart singing his abstract expressionist “Summertime,” a friend alerted me to the ending of the 2003 movie by the Farrelly brothers, Stuck On You, in which the police invade a musical theater production of “Bonnie & Clyde, the Musical,” and the star must prove he is not the real outlaw, but just a singer. He does a complete and near-perfect rendition of Billy Stewart’s “Summertime.” An artsy, elaborate homage to the 1956 Stewart creation.
BULLS: Surely there are many who disagree with any and all defenses of bullfighting! (PS, I love dogs very much and have had them for half my life. The only animals I’ve ever harmed are mosquitoes, flies, spiders, roaches, and ants.)
NEW YORK TIMES: There must be many pro and con thoughts regarding the publication’s attributes.
BUGATTI: Can any car be a “work of art”? In what way?
DYLAN, MAILER, SEINFELD, THE VAMPIRE LADY: Opinions on any of these people?
WARHOL, “FLAMING CREATURES”: Any ideas on art related to Campbell’s Soup cans and what may be considered pornography?
INTESTINAL DISTRESS: TV ads as art and as maybe just offensive annoyances. I find that Preparation H’s recent TV ad focusing on the real town of Kiester, Minnesota to be a clever take on what’s usually a problematic subject to discuss.
WACKY AIR DANCERS: Fascinating or just annoying? Why?
SHEPHERD, MASLOW, RECENT EVENTS: Should all the arts be supported? One of the few responses I got about any of my artsys complained that he hadn’t expected “politics” to ever be a part of my five-year-old blog—not even this once. What might the arguments be for and against supporting the arts? (I find this to be a “political” subject only in our current, wacky world.)
I could go on and on, but enough!
Now, at that period, you know how it is when you’re in an office—you see this in all walks of life—that there will be certain people who will drift together for some reason or another. And they will be called friends. They may not have anything in particular in common except that they are friends. They’re together. A few years later you drift away, you don’t know why, and you get other friends.
At that point in my life, my closest friends were Schwartz and Bolis. One great thing about this neighborhood I lived in was you got to know all the various cultures.
Gaza—a real Hungarian name— was an old buddy of mine. So half the time I would spend my afternoon in the basement arguing with Gaza’s mother. And I would come over and see Bolis. Bolis’s family lived always in the basement. When you would come into the house you didn’t go up to the front door and knock. Nobody was ever in the top side of the house. You’d walk around the back, come up the driveway and go in the back door and down to the basement. “Bolis, hey Bol!” You knocked on the door, and the door would swing open and there would be his mother, always with a shawl over the head. “Bolis not here.”
So I got very adept at faking Polish. I could ask her things such as, “Mrs. Rutkowski, is Bolis here?” “Can I have some stuffed cabbage?” “Stuffed cabbage is good.” Simple, basic things that you say to a Polish lady.
So every night we would sit down in the basement, me and Bolis, Gaza, Schwartz, Flick, Bruner, and play pinochle, various cultures all coming into convergence. All of us meeting together here in this one little group of friends. It never occurred to me that Bolis was Polish, Gaza was Hungarian, because that is the way all the kids were. Some Hungarian, some Polish, some Schwartzes, some Flicks, Bruners. Never any value judgment. We all went to the same high school, lived the same scene, rode around in Flick’s car and went scragging every night looking for girls.
After 158 posts added onto my Shepherd material, I’ve about run out of artsy fartsys to describe. I may come up with more, but I’m unsure if I will. I’ve done it all because I enjoy the mental process—contemplating/examining my varied artsys in the art world I love and looking back at my interests and activities by creating these little illustrated essays. You see, essentially I do it for myself and in the hope that others find it worth their time and effort–it’s an added pleasure if some few are informed and entertained.
Although I get far fewer than expected comments and interchanges on these, I have hopes (having a super-strong super ego) that a selection of maybe four or five score of them might find their way into a commercial book produced by a fine art book publisher.
Getting a book published in recent decades is a difficult, frustrating, agonizing adventure, in part because nearly all publishers only look at manuscripts submitted by literary agents, and agents, with their own issues, cause many of them to not even politely respond to submitted queries. (I was lucky with my two Jean Shepherd books—I encountered publishers without an agent!)
With contract in hand, the unsuspecting author then has to negotiate the pitfalls on the uneven publishing road to see the first small carton of his printed books arrive in the mail. So I’ve tried, and am about to give up searching for a quality publisher who accepts un-agented queries. Recently I did find one and submitted material. Responses take about three months or even much more, so I carry on with life and wait.
In the meantime, I’ve written drafts of what would be required in a book’s front matter, author bio, and the book’s flyleaf promotion—these, I believe, are commonly written by the book’s author, and for that reason are written in the third person and may be a bit hyperbolic:
AUTHOR BIO FOR BOOK FLAP
Eugene B. Bergmann lives with his wife, Allison (whom he likes to say he fell in love with at first phone call), and their family. They are surrounded by their 7,000+ books and varied artworks in their home not far from the art capital of the world.
Besides Artsy Fartsy, Bergmann is the published author of the only description and appreciation of the world’s greatest monologist and wit, Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, and also the published editor, transcriber, and annotator of Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles. He is also the editor, transcriber, and annotator of the unpublished books making up a magnificent and definitive potential trilogy with the army book: Shep’s Kid Stories and Shep’s Travel Tales. Lots of references regarding these matters can be found on his blog: http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com
He is the proud, yet-shamefaced, author of the vanity-published novel, Rio Amazonas (he paid not a cent for this, and it’s forever available as print-on-demand), as well as being the disgruntled author of the totally unpublished, surely prize-winning novels, Testament and The Pomegranate Conspiracy. He remains in mourning regarding his never-to-be-completed novel about a fine artist, Art Crazy.
BOOK DESCRIPTION FOR BOOK FLAPS AND ELSEWHERE
Artsy Fartsy consists of scores of quirky, unexpected, entertaining, informative, and totally true illustrated essays regarding the immensely varied world of art, all encountered by a single individual who keeps his eyes open and his artistic sensibility alert. Eugene B. Bergmann has traveled widely throughout the arts and brought back his findings and commentaries. He suggests that his art-filled collected adventures relate to the long-ago beginnings of museums as “cabinets of curiosities.” Those informative entertainments exhibited a wide variety of objects and artifacts, with a particular leaning towards the “rare, eclectic and esoteric.” Bergmann encourages men, women, and kids alike to express their own unique artsy fartsy potentials.
To list just a small portion of his artsy subjects: “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” his “Guernica Colorization Kit,” Cezanne’s Angry Patch, raven rattles, Keith Haring, the Roman Forum, Turner and Wyeth, Japanese art including Hokusai’s greatest book along with shunga and netsukes, Machu Picchu, La La Land, artists’ books including Mexican codexes with books of hours and pop-ups, graphic novels and Mad Comics as art, New York’s American Museum of Natural History and its legerdemain, Suzanne Farrell’s ballet slippers, a subway violin busker, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Prince, Granada, bullfighting, and Peru, The New York Times, his Museum of Plastic Harmonicas, the world’s greatest radio monologist, The Vampire Lady, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Warhol, Intestinal Distress, astrolabes, torn billboards, and wacky air dancers. Plus lots more.
Bergmann concludes his homage to all art-based endeavors by launching a convincing and emotional appeal for continued support for the arts—even for stuff you never pay attention to and don’t give a damn about.
ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd
Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles
(editor, transcriber, and annotator)
This is a philosophical question. I don’t know what would have happened had any of the girls gotten in the car. We would just ride around and holler at them. That’s scragging. It is a sport, see. We’d say, “Wow, how about that three we saw going down that last alley there! Holy smokes! Quick, go around the corner.”
We would exchange times to drive, because the guy who is driving is at a tremendous disadvantage. The rest of us are the ones who are actually scragging. He’s driving.
As the season progressed, it was like fishing, where you notice that there are certain parts of the lake where the fish are –the best parts of the lake. So we began to realize just what neighborhoods where the best scragging was. There was one part of the town there that was fantastic. Block after block there would be girls out walking.
This had nothing to do with Esther Jane Albery. I was actually going out with a girl. I went out with Esther Jane, I went out with Dorothy, I went out with girls I knew. But scragging was something else. Hard to describe what it was. It was the lure of the alien, the unknown, the mysterious. And so, night after night we would scrag. Me and Schwartz and Bolis and Flick and Bruner. Each of us had our own girl.
Little did I realize, friend, oh, fellow victim of life’s vicissitudes, that our innocent game of scragging was to lead to one of the most educational moments of my entire life. Well, you never know when you’re gonna learn something.
Artsy Phone Poles—Unfinished Artists’ Book
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I daily walked to the Long Island Rail Road Station toward work, my delight in “variations on a theme” kicked in–I noted the varied look of the telephone poles I passed on the major street toward the station. Different amounts of weathered wear and tear (long gone the old posted paper notices for lost pets or local services to be rendered), an occasional part of a telephone company’s equipment, even a set of lost keys seeking their owner, and, clinging firmly to the wood, innumerable remaindered nails and staples.
Subtle but distinct—no pole an identical twin with any other, though one might think the differences too unremarkable to be considered. But I took enough interest to photograph them and work toward creating another artists’ book from the project. All photos organized in proper sequence from my start on Carol Drive to the train station’s push-button walk sign at the end. Those were the days before I named my quirky mindset as “artsy fartsy.” Somehow I lost interest in the poles and never produced the book. But now I recognize the idea’s artsiness.
Looking back with fondness and nostalgia, I’ve selected parts of those long-ago neglected raw materials for the unfinished book I’d thought to produce as a series of thin sheets of cedar with a pole photo on one side and the map of the route on the other, all cards nestled in a fine wooden cigar box. The pole images here were selected and arranged not for their geographical locations, but for visual appeal. Some of the subtlety of color has been lost in the unavoidable steps toward technological viability.