The Art Of the ‘Thing’

There is a great debate amongst commentators on the arts, as to whether you can separate the artists from what they create, whether, for example, a painting can be looked at as just a painting or whether you need to know about he artist in order to appreciate it. Now obviously you can look at a work of art just for the thing itself, and my entries here are rarely about the obvious.

The question is whether you lose something if you do not know about the artist, and of course you do. So is what you lose important to your appreciation of what they create? After all if you had known Van Gogh and walked into his sparse room, smelling of sweat with dirty clothes around and heard him snoring with a painting still drying on the easel, would you ‘appreciate’ the painting more than seeing it on a gallery wall surrounded by guards?

My mother told me you can never ‘understand’ a work of art if you do now know about the life that created it. Because every bit of sweat, and the smell of those dirty clothes is in Van Gough’s work. Just as fascism is in Ezra Pound’s work, just as the fight for liberty is in Lorca’s work, when you read Balzac you experience his Frenchness which is distinct from Zola’s. The passion in Wuthering Heights, is Emily’s passion.

This is why artists of stature feel themselves in their work,  and uncovering that self gives the work the edginess of life itself.

If I Could Write . . .

I would of course be brilliant. I would be Zola reborn, I would be deep yet brief like Chekhov, I would be passionate and sparse like Steinbeck, I would be wide-ranging and evocative like Fast. There would be a hint of Byron in my irony and humour, the politics of Mary Ann Evans in my choice of subjects. I would not have the unbelievable circumstance of Hardy but choose rather the unremitting brutality of Hugo. I would want to capture the human condition as Thackery and Balzac, but leave readers with the delicate wisdom of Emily Dickenson.

At times the passion of Emily Bronte, at times the fluidity of Durrell. I would capture the instincts in a awkward moment like Singer and the beating heart of actions like Dostoyevsky. And after the pain I would soothe like Li Po, expound like Gandhi, entertain like Dickens and end with sending ripples of laughter and nods of agreement through my readers like MacNeice.

I would conjure like Cervantes and Lorca, touch depression like Solzenitskin  and lift the spirits like Moliere. If I could write I would have a touch of Shakespeare and a pinch of Jermiah and I would prophecy the human race into Shelley.

But I am me.

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December 2018
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