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The view of Coolidge Point near Manchester Massachusetts and home to my friend Laurel, a hermit artist extraordinaire. Being a 21st century Thoreauian is a singular stance.

More on the theme of isolation, solitude, quiet (see the earlier post Where it Works.) Online artists and friends Walt Pascoe, Luke Storms and Holly Friesen directed me to an essay that appeared two years ago in the Chronicle of Higher Learning titled The End of Solitude by William Deresiewicz. Tracing the concept of solitude from Ancient Greece through Romanticism, Modernism and now Postmodernism, Deresiewicz illuminates a rich history of how time alone has been viewed. During certain periods, such as the Romantic age, it was highly valued. At other times, like our current era, not so much.

Deresiewicz captures the essence of our time in a word:

Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

Say it isn’t so, Joe. I value the qualities of sincerity and authenticity, and most art that I respond to has a strong relationship with both of those concepts. But Deresiewicz is naming something that has shifted significantly in the last ten years in so many aspects of our lives.

As an artist, the visibility-first approach to art making and marketing is something many of us find deeply disturbing. I’m not shunning the value of visibility for anyone who is a maker. We need audiences to read our poetry, look at our paintings, listen to our music. And when the Internet can help us find those who are receptive, that’s a plus. But is visibility the grounding for the contemporary self? Is it possible to do your work with sincerity and authenticity and still have a high Klout score? These are questions I’m not sure can be answered just yet.

Deresiewicz’s essay is worth the read in its entirety and full of insights on a number of themes including generational differences, cities, suburbs, friendship, cultural history. But here are just a few other passages that speak most directly to my own solitude-seeking, hermit-hearted self:

* * *
And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing “in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures,” “bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.” Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity.

* * *
To hold oneself apart from society…is to begin to think one’s way beyond it. Solitude, Emerson said, “is to genius the stern friend.” “He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” One must protect oneself from the momentum of intellectual and moral consensus — especially, Emerson added, during youth. “God is alone,” Thoreau said, “but the Devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion”.

* * *
No real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude. “The saint and poet seek privacy,” Emerson said, “to ends the most public and universal.” We are back to the seer, seeking signposts for the future in splendid isolation.

* * *
The last thing to say about solitude is that it isn’t very polite. Thoreau knew that the “doubleness” that solitude cultivates, the ability to stand back and observe life dispassionately, is apt to make us a little unpleasant to our fellows, to say nothing of the offense implicit in avoiding their company…But Thoreau understood that securing one’s self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings. He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself. Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.


The ever present spectre of urban expression…a wall surface in Brooklyn

Most compelling article I’ve read in a while: What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation, by the editors of n+1.

The history of hipsterdom is rich and nuanced, and its current “apotheosis” is told with a superb eye for detail and those often subtle but telling clues. Even so, the penumbra is everywhere in New York City and particularly Brooklyn. Tracing back the source of these social norms (in a manner that reminds me of Greil Marcus’ amazing book, Lipstick Traces) makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s just a few snippets. (You can buy the small book here or read an excerpt at New York magazine.)

***
In the nineties, it had become commonplace to assume that one could no longer say heartfelt, sincere things outright, because all genuine utterance would be stolen and repeated as advertising. Whatever anguish this caused seemed gone in the artifacts of the early aughts. The ironic games were weightless. The emotional expressions suggested therapy culture, but hipster art often kitschified—or at least made playful—the weightiest tragedies, whether personal or historical: orphans and cancer for Eggers, the Holocaust and 9/11 for Jonathan Safran Foer.

***
Of course, there are artists of hipster-related sensibility who remain artists. In the neighborhoods, though, there was a feeling throughout the last decade that the traditional arts were of little interest to hipsters because their consumer culture substituted a range of narcissistic handicrafts similar enough to sterilize the originals. One could say, exaggerating only slightly, that the hipster moment did not produce artists, but tattoo artists, who gained an entire generation’s arms, sternums, napes, ankles, and lower backs as their canvas. It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers: Last Night’s Party, Terry Richardson, the Cobra Snake. It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts. And hipsterism did not make an avant-garde; it made communities of early adopters.did not produce artists, but tattoo artists. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.

***
True countercultures may wax and wane in numbers, but a level of youth hostility to the American official compromise has been continuous since World War II. Over the past decade, hipsters have mixed with particular elements of anarchist, free, vegan, environmentalist, punk, and even anti-capitalist communities. One glimpses behind them the bike messengers, straight-edge skaters, Lesbian Avengers, freegans, enviro-anarchists, and interracial hip-hoppers who live as they please, with a spiritual middle finger always raised.

ted-kennedy

The death of Ted Kennedy has brought an atmospheric inversion to Boston, one that holds the sorrow of his passing in the air, everywhere. Today the motorcade made its way through South Boston, not far from my studio, terminating at the Kennedy Library that overlooks Southie’s Carson Beach and Pleasure Bay. The sentiment heard most frequently? This is the end of an era. You can’t help but feel like we have come up short.

Two excellent sites have been developed by Blue State Digital for information about Ted and his legacy: The soon-to-be Edward M. Kennedy Institute
and the Ted Kennedy site.

So here are a few images and links to counter those feelings of loss and longing. As Howard Zinn artfully reminds us again and again, the good news doesn’t get reported with the depth that the bad news does. So here are a few high points from the last few weeks:

SBsign
South Boston MA, a block from my studio (whose campaign this is, I have no idea)
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Bgood
Tomato plants growing on the roof of the B. Good healthy hamburger shop in Brookline MA
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IMG_0814
List of animal sightings in Paradise Valley Wildlife Refuge, Lenox MA (double click to read in detail)
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IMG_0815
Seen in Pittsfield MA
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And a few links to read or watch:

The opposite of pick-pocketing: Here

And finally, a link I have posted here before (a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert) that I find helpful to view repeatedly: Here

OK. This is just a bit hard for me to swallow. My friends’ friends’ friends are impacting my happiness quotient? Are social contagions real, like obesity and smoking? And if these findings are in fact “true” (whatever that means) is there a moral obligation in all this as well?

Weakened from my bout of FP (just can’t bring myself to write it out in words, matching the word “food” with something so pernicious!) I am simply asking you to read this piece from the New York Times written by a woman with an extraordinary name–Pam Belluck. Bell, like French belle, for beautiful, coupled with good old fashioned luck. That’s auspicious, Beautiful Luck.

happy

How happy you are may depend on how happy your friends’ friends’ friends are, even if you don’t know them at all.

And a cheery next-door neighbor has more effect on your happiness than your spouse’s mood.

So says a new study that followed a large group of people for 20 years — happiness is more contagious than previously thought.

More

Very interesting article on Slate about the emotion I crave most from everything in life—politics, friendships, painting, food, sex—and with a wonderful name all its own: Elevation. (I always did love that song by Bono of the same name…)

And near the end there is a discussion of elevation’s counterweight, disgust. This is particularly poignant today, having suffered from a terrible bout of food poisoning at lunch. (Anyone living in Somerville, better beware of Rudy’s on Holland Street.) But nausea aside, my compass always pulls me in the direction of the Big E.

Take a read here: Slate

vote

Can you tell that I can’t think about anything other than this election? Until this contest is over, that’s the only channel I’m on.

To continue on the theme of my posting below, here is a provocative piece by John Stoehr from the excellent blog, Flyover. This adds yet another dimension to the discussion of the relationship between political orientation and the inner life. In this case Stoehr takes us into a discussion about art, empathy, artists, political orientation, inter alia.

I know it is another long read, but I found it particularly thought provoking:

You don’t hear about it much, but it exists — the role of art in the democratic process.

We’re a pragmatic country. We don’t care much for shades of gray. It’s easy to see how the cost of education and a housing crisis affect the health of the citizenry.

But reading a novel or watching a play? That’s not so easy to see. Hence, we don’t hear about it much.

Even so, there is a long intellectual tradition of making the case for the arts in politics. In *The Poetics*, Aristotle said drama doesn’t show us what has happened as much as what might happen. In the 20th century, Alexander Meiklejohn, an early advocate of First Amendment rights, said Americans need the arts precisely because we vote.

“The arts cultivate capacities of judgment and sensitivity that can and should be expressed in the choices a citizen makes,” wrote Martha Nussbaum, paraphrasing Meiklejohn, in her *Cultivating Humanity*.

We must nurture a “sympathetic imagination,” she adds in her own words, to understand “the motives and choices of people different from ourselves, seeing them not as forbiddingly alien and other, but as sharing many problems and possibilities with us.”

For Nussbaum, art is a lens through which to understand other people, not a reflection of our political affiliation. Even so, most artists lean to the left.

Look, for instance, at contemporary American theater. You’d be hard pressed to find a play about conservative values.

“I don’t think I’ve come across one,” André Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater for the past 16 years, told *The New York Times* two weeks ago.

No surprise then that Stephen Elliot, the novelist, asserted matter-of-factly that “literary fiction is character driven, and to write good characters you have to have empathy, and if you have empathy, you’re a liberal.”

It’s an elegant concatenation of logic, but is empathy really a result of politics? Or does one’s politics result in empathy?

Elliott’s remark was no doubt in response to eight years of “compassionate conservatism.” But it seems to reflect something more than one president’s enormous failings.

Rather, it speaks to the powerful political tensions that characterize American life.
For Andrea Studley, co-founder of the Deuce Theatre Company, Elliott is about right.

After all, liberals have become all but synonymous, in the potent words of linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, with “a tax-raising, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.”

And let’s not forget that liberals have been for nearly a decade “God-hating elites.” For Studley, whose political satire, *The Emperor Is Naked?*, continues this weekend, liberals need to reclaim the cause of empathy.

“Liberal values reflect caring for the have-nots,” Studley says. “Those values are liberal and Christian, but religion has been identified by the right for many years now.”

Is empathy needed to be a good artist?

Not really, says Conseula Francis, director of African-American Studies at the College of Charleston (and a *City Paper* contributor): “You have to be someone on whom nothing is lost,” she says, paraphrasing the novelist Henry James. “I don’t think you have to like people very much for that to be true.”

As for empathy leading to a political bent, that might depend on how you see the role of government.
If you believe it should help people, Francis says, you might be a liberal. If you believe government should yield to the compassions of churches and charities, you might be a conservative.

But all art is political, says Frank Martin, a professor of art history at South Carolina State University. So empathy is political.

You can’t get away from it, because art’s expression is grounded in a context that is inherently politicized.

“True empathy implies liberalism,” Martin says. “If I feel the pain of the other, that means the other cannot be exploited.

“Thus, empathy is inherently liberal.”

Though the artist’s context may be politicized, as well as his art, how we understand that context can be manipulated, says Tim LaPira, a CofC professor of political science.

Pro-choice advocates, for instance, have empathy for the mother. Pro-lifers have empathy for the unborn. Empathy, therefore, is psychological, sociological and rhetorical.

Elliott’s remark seems to reflect two assumptions deeply rooted in the U.S. Constitution, LaPira says.

According to Thomas Hobbes, author of *Leviathan*, human nature is intrinsically bad. Government is meant to protect our rights and property from the corruption of power.

According to John Locke, human nature is good if we can lift the chains of inequality and injustice. The Constitution, therefore, was designed to protect against tyranny but also to manifest humanity’s altruistic ideals.

So empathy is ideological, too.

Politics may explain why most artists are liberal, says JC Conway, who heads a late-night series at Footlight Players Theatre.

Conway is conservative, a rarity in theater. He believes his minority status has more to do with religious right “nut jobs” than neo-Federalists like himself.

“My personal preferences should not impinge on others,” says Conway, who opens *Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead* on Nov. 6. “Most artists are liberal, because they don’t want to be told what to do or how to live their lives.”

Social conditions, not art, shape one’s politics and one’s degree of empathy, says Lance Mannion (lancemannion.typepad.com), a commentator living in New Paltz, N.Y.

Peer pressure and self-interest, he says, will challenge even the staunchest partisan.

“If a young conservative does set out to become an artist, I don’t think he’ll stay that conservative for long, for the same reason a young liberal who enters the military or investment banking won’t stay liberal for long,” Mannion says.

Still, art can create empathy, says Carol Ann Davis, a CofC professor of English and editor of the literary journal *Crazyhorse*.

Davis believes “empathy is and should be a great democratizing force in that it disallows a certain type of ignorance from flourishing.

“It opens the possibility for hope.”

Let’s assume for a moment that empathy is an inherent human trait and therefore apolitical.

Still, it may not serve well, as Meiklejohn asserted, the choices a citizen makes. The best empathy comes from a proper education.

A traditional view among metaphysical philosophers is that empathy has to be trained with “moral reasoning,” says Jennifer Baker, a professor of philosophy at CofC.

Otherwise, Baker says, “We act on behalf of those for whom we have empathy and forget about those for whom we have none.”

So empathy has a moral side as well.

In fact, we can empathize someone to death, says Mary Ann Kohli, a self-described liberal who heads the Clemente Project.

Her program offers free humanities courses, like philosophy and literature, to poor students, many of them battered women or former addicts, at Trident Technical College.

“You see it all the time in families with addiction,” she says. “You have to confront the issue, and that can be seen as cold. If you don’t, you can send them down the ladder.

“Destruction usually comes from within.”

So, to recap — does being an artist make you a liberal? Well … maybe. What if we reverse the question?

Does it make you a conservative?

Absolutely yes, says conservative blogger Ann Althouse (althouse.blogspot.com).

“[A] great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist … may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath … there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world.”

But that’s another story.

Early on in my art education, a professor told me a parable I have never forgotten.

Long ago, an emperor in China loved ducks. Inordinately. His passion was so overwhelming that he called forth the greatest artist and calligrapher in his kingdom and made his request: I want you to create the ultimate image of a duck for me.

The artist accepted his request and then left the court. Every day the emperor waited for his painting to arrive. Months passed, but still no word. After six months and a loss of patience, the emperor sent for the artist.

“I’ve been waiting for you for six months, and still you have sent me nothing!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the artist pulled out a large blank sheet of rice paper and a sumi brush loaded with ink. With just a few graceful, simple strokes, he produced the most exquisite and elemental image of a duck.

The emperor was dumbfounded. The beauty of the piece was stunning, but he was still irritated.

“I have been waiting for six long months. Now you come to me and produce this beautiful painting effortlessly, right in front of me. Why did you wait so long?”

The artist answered, “It took me six months to be able to capture the essence with so few strokes. What looks effortless to you is the result of dedicated labor.”

It’s a simple story, yes. But as a young artist I knew it had some particular permutations of meaning in my own life. Coming from a culture whose landscaped backdrop was the parched soil of the Great Basin desert, my DNA was preloaded with attitudes about the righteousness of hard work. Mormonism has a proclivity towards being a “doaholic” culture, a quality which is captured brilliantly in an essay by Hugh Nibley called “Zeal without Knowledge.” My favorite line from Nibley’s piece captures the essence of the problem: “Mormons think it more commendable to get up at 5AM to write a bad book than to get up at nine o’clock to write a good one.”

The “hard work above all” value set probably parallels other family system “ubertangles” like alcoholism, sexual abuse and criminal mindsets. It’s hard to even place those terms in the same sentence given the righteousness with which hard work was embraced in my family. My mother was raised on a farm and often talked about hoeing the beets as a child. Everybody worked HARD. Being lazy was just not an option. But being “lazy” in my culture of origin was not just sloth—it also included things like sitting quietly and doing nothing (also known as meditation) and enjoying nature without raking the leaves at the same time.

As an artist who spends so much time in the studio alone, I have had a lot of time to dismantle much of that thinking. Dismantle does not mean dispel or destroy. It means you have a better idea of just how deep the stain has permeated your psyche. (Stain sounds so harsh, my mother would say. Perhaps we could go with “tinting”?) So while my discipline and focused hard work are held by many as a virtue—and I am not devaluing the importance of those qualities in the creative professions—I am also learning how to be at ease with the full arc of the process. Ease sounds too much like easy, and easy and effortless are not values where I come from.

This last spring was a period of so much grief and loss in my life that my ability to paint came to a standstill. For weeks I would go in to my studio and just sit, doing nothing. I thought that if I just showed up, the ice would melt and I would be ready when it did.

But this was being iced out at a level unlike any other I have known, and it did not melt as I had hoped. After several weeks of that brave vigil, I got the insight that I should stop forcing something that wasn’t remotely ready to budge.

Just a few weeks ago the nudge came to start showing up again. Not the long days of work that I was used to, but short visits, as if courting young love. Then one day new work burst out of me. It wasn’t planned or even premeditated, but was the most authentic gesture I could make from the most wounded place in me.

The work that resulted was very different from previous paintings. For over a week I had the complete series on my studio floor, not sure where it was going or what it meant. It wasn’t until my husband and two friends came to the studio and responded so powerfully to those pieces that I allowed myself to legitimize them.

Two of those images were used on the show card I sent out for my upcoming exhibition in Provincetown (details are available at Slow Painters). What has surprised me most has been how many people responded to the new work. I received more emails and phone calls about these pieces than any before.

My friend Riki, a brilliant artist and writer, wrote these words to me:

I came across this amazing image on your card. Can you talk about it? Is this a new series of work? Am I looking down on an interior space deep in the human heart disappearing at the upper left in a pure white light?

Is this about your mother?

Rap me on the knuckles if I’m trespassing but really, I’m stunned. Star struck. This feels very different.

Kathryn, my partner in the death and burial of our dear friend Morris, wrote:

Maybe what you’ve recorded there seems a record of my long siege of grief as well as yours. Why have we almost lost the Greek understanding of art as catharsis?

And Andrew, shaman in training, wrote this:

Captures for me a state of organization or un-organization in keeping with my pre-occupation with the ayahuasca experience. I can’t tell if this is of a mind dying or of a mind being born. Can’t tell if it is vision into the past or vision into the future. Can’t tell if it is a cave wall or the inside surface of a mind. As such distinctions may be arbitrary anyway, the art offers me wide-ranging freedom to think in all these directions at once and without boundaries. It seems like a node or switchbox but linked to what and channeling what I can’t tell.

However these images came into being, I’m not sure. But I’m also not asking. I do know it wasn’t from righteously sweating in the beet field but more akin to the Chinese duck—the preparation at some earlier time allowed the gesture now.

Ticelle 1, 18 x 18″ mixed media on wood panel
Ticelle 3, 18 x 18″ mixed media on wood panel
Ticelle 5, 18 x 18″ mixed media on wood panel

Has it happened, are there more blogs now than people on the planet? The uncontrollable sprawl of online scribblers has led to a lot of pondering in the media lately, with cultural critics ready to unpack and dissect the implications of this curious new form of expression and interconnection.

I have intentionally kept clear of this increasingly overexposed dissection of blogs, bloggers, blogging, the blogosphere, the battle for airtime and audience grab. It isn’t because I feel untouched by these issues because that isn’t the case. I’m a blogger like a gazillion other people. But it wasn’t until I read the New York Times magazine cover article on Sunday by Emily Gould that I realized just how much I was chafing against the increasing meaninglessness of the term “blogger.”

If you didn’t read Gould’s article, it was a tell all confession of a highly charged, high profile case of “he said/she said”, one that can happen when you live your life out loud, online, without much in the way of editing. Gould began as a blogger who openly shared the details of her relationships and personal life, was hired to be an editor at the now infamous website Gawker, pissed off a lot of people particularly when she defended the ethos of Gawker’s celebrity stalking, lost her job, became a target just as she had targeted others, and now is reconsidering just what it all meant. Gould is 24 years old, which explains a lot. Tact and temperance were not qualities I had honed when I was her age either.

But Gould’s confessional mea culpa—with a twist (there’s always a twist)—has been bouncing in my head for days. Her compulsive need to “overshare” (her term) is a feature of her personality she says, and even though she would like to search and destroy many of her earlier and unwise postings, she seems committed to continue her maturation process online, in full view of the public. Reading her New York Times account has inspired me to articulate my own reasons for writing and for making the determinations about what I share and what I do not.

I have a few favorite bloggers who are regular self-scrutinizers. D at Joe Felso: Ruminations recently wrote one of his ever thoughtful postings on his own blogging oeuvre, including some ideas about where he would like to take his site. Another favorite, G, who currently captains the excellent Writer Reading, taxonomized the categories of bloggers on one of her previous blog incarnations. (I particularly liked the label “Sheherazadists” for bloggers like G–yes, another G name–at How to Survive Suburban Life who use the blogging form to write about their life story in a series of vignette postings.) C at Mariachristina has written about the constraints of writing without the cover of an alias or avatar. She has had to truncate her observations and expressions in order to respect the privacy of her family and friends. The analytical and intellectually probing J at little essays often asks out loud what her blog should and could be, particularly during a time when she is pressured with pursuing an advanced degree in art history and expecting her second child.

I am not of the Gould mold. If anything, I am an undersharer. The oft-evoked distinction Stevens makes in “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” between inflection and innuendo has resonance for me. I want to be subjective, to a point. Idea driven, to a point. Personal, to a point.

I am not a journalist, a confessionalist, or memoirist or a dialectician. The closest analog I can find to describe my aspirations for this blog is my aspirations for my paintings: Evocative, but not manipulative. Suggestive, but not formulaic. Mysterious but not self conscious. Memorable and yet personal, sized for a human being.

One of my favorite descriptions of an artist is from Donald Winnicott and seems apropos for blogging as well:

“Artists are continually torn between the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.”

Gould’s blogging style of full disclosure is probably more in keeping with an increasingly confessional, privacy-blind culture. I for one am in search for something more. Or perhaps something less.

Maybe you are like me. Maybe you too get easily seduced by the pace and pitch of another culture. Whenever I return from being and breathing with fellow humans who don’t speak my language and are refreshingly free of the troubles that plague anyone who lives in this country right now, reentry is a slow drying out. Of course I missed my beloveds, both friends and family, but what a much needed break from an invasive, oversaturated, misaligned cultural context that feels oppressive to me. It feels like the jackhammer out your bedroom window, the one that starts at 6am and doesn’t let up all day. The one that no one asked if you minded.

I spent the last week with my daughter Kellin in Florence. She is working on her masters in art history and is currently the most single minded person of my acquaintance. Her life has been streamlined free of the time-draining distractions that certainly eat up hours of my days, like feeling obligated to read the New York Times, to answer every email and to know the standings in both baseball leagues. Climbing into her canopied life was like coming face to face with the underside of a mushroom–an intricate, fragrant, fragile complexity. It is no wonder that she hopes to spend many more years living there.


Kellin portraying Mary in a Mannerist style

Her passions are infectious, and her latest is Mannerist art. So in addition to my usual pilgrimages to see everything by Giotto and Simone Martini in both Sienna and Florence, I was given a thorough list of where to find the Pontormos, the Rossos, the Bronzinos and the Del Sartos. I’m an easy convert, but I am convinced she could win anyone over to the pleasures of these amazing artists.

We’ll be back in December when she presents the results of her research. That is just six months away, but it is a point in the future to measure my own success at simplifying, singleminding, purifying my intentions.


Via Neri, Kellin’s street


Intrepid observer, in the Pantheon


Rome on a Saturday

My work has a close relationship to landscape, but it is not a direct one. People often talk about a certain place and say something like, “It is so beautiful, you really can’t capture it in a photograph.” What is it that can’t be captured by a representational process like photography? What exists beyond the ocularcentric view? Some people look “on” or look “at” an object or landscape, but I am trying to look “into.” It’s like getting into the landscape and then viewing it from within.

Coupled with this line of thought is my ongoing curiosity about how the body plays out in the various manifestations of creative exploration. I’ve been haunted for days by the image from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Unbeliever”, by way of Bunyan, of sleeping on top of a mast (see my posting below from April 30th). This image plays out on so many levels–conscious, creative, sexual, spiritual.

One of the books that addresses some of these same concerns is Earth-Mapping by Edward S. Casey. (He has written several other books–Getting Back Into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, and Representing Place: Landscape Painting and Maps–all of which I would like to explore as well.) I’m not even half way through Earth Mapping, but his themes are so in line with many of the ideas that have been threading in and out of my consciousness and my work lately.

Casey writes about leading earth artists like Robert Smithson (who created the Spiral Jetty, a personal favorite) as well as how the earth and landscape play an elemental role in the work of abstract artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning. He also addresses the concept of the body and its primal role in that landscape/abstraction connection.

I’ll write more about this topic as I continue my careful progress through the pages of Casey’s book. In the meantime, here is an excerpt that gives a taste of his point of view:

The lived body is at stake throughout. It is the means of being in touch with the earth, whether the actual earth of an actual scene, the imaginary earth of non-representational landscape, or the virtual earth explored by the viewer’s phantom body. The lived body is what affords a “feel” for a given landscape, telling us how it is to be there, how it is to know one’s way around in it. Such a body is at once the organ and the vehicle of the painted or constructed map, the source of “knowing one’s way about,” thus of knowing how we can be said to be acquainted with a certain landscape. This landscape need not be our own; nor need it be the land east of Aix or the fields around St. Remy. As re-presented to us as viewers, the painted or drawn or sculpted map of the landscape allows—invites, indeed sometimes demands—our lived body to enter into intimate accord with the configurations of its smooth space. In this way, we come to know this landscape from within the terms of its own re-presentation. Knowing it by means of this re-incarnate knowing is the root of all subsequent representational knowing; it is the way by which we realize our kinship with the landscape itself. Thanks to the re-presentation—the presentation again of this landscape—we sense just how intimately linked we are with and in this re-implaced earth-world, how much our very “thrownness” is attuned, in mood, with the flesh of the world that we come to know in our own flesh as the world’s flesh.