Monday, November 19, 2012

Still unravished brides of quietness

"Young people today, immersed in a digital universe, love the volatile excitement of virtual reality but they lack the patience to steadily contemplate a single image—a complex static object such as a great painting or sculpture. The paintings of their world are now video games, with images in febrile motion; their sculptures are the latest-model cellphone, deftly shaped to the hand." 
That's Camille Paglia, in the November Smithsonian. Does what she's saying resonate with you? Paglia has a new book on art out now called Glittering Images, in which she asks the reader to "stop and scrutinize each picture as if it were a devotional image in a prayer book." I enjoyed her close readings of assorted poems in Break, Blow, Burn (including "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell), and look forward to the exegeses in her "Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars."
I must confess that one of my favorite pastimes is slowly perusing a newly acquired art or photography book, submerging myself in the timeless beauty therein until the perpetual hubbub of daily life is but a distant murmur. Daedalus Books is an unfailing source for these treasured tomes, including beautiful books on Renoir and Modigliani, an exquisite volume depicting Eros in Renaissance paintings, and rare collections of prints by Hokusai and other Japanese masters.
One of my hobbyhorses is ancient Egyptian art, and we have oodles of books depicting it, including ones on Egyptian art at various museums and mammoth surveys of its many-millenia history.
"Sarumaru Dayu" from Hokusai's 100 Poems series
"These color Pictures of 100 Poems by 100 Poets, Explained by the Nurse'' interpret traditional Japanese ... poetic forms visually by means of the persona of a 'nurse' who functions as a less sophisticated viewer and commentator than the artist himself. The results are spectacular. Whether showing semi-nude women abalone divers struggling with their catch while a male crew of shriveled old salts leers from a nearby boat, or the carefree rapture of a leisurely group of men and women observing cherry blossoms at their peak, Hokusai captures with drama and delicacy sublime and ridiculous states. The artist's simplicity, though deceptive, is also remarkable: he illustrates a poem about a lovers' seaside tryst with a magnificently imposing yet unadorned sailing vessel, its small window offering a coy glimpse of the fortunate couple inside. Each print (as well as 41 black-and-white sketches of projected prints apparently never completed) is accompanied by the poem, in Japanese and English."—Publishers Weekly


  1. You have struck a nerve with this post, and this is why I am here. Here is the greatest chance for the first beholding of a thing of beauty. When you introduce something like Hokusai's work to me (to continue with Keats)
    "Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken."
    To contemplate a work of art gives pleasure when the mind recognizes familiar concepts in new contexts that enhance their meaning or present an unexpected contour.
    This pleasure of recognition spreads into mundane life, so that even such a small thing as the fall of morning light upon a sleeping cat can purge your mind of the million petty annoyances that waste your energy and wear down your soul.
    Will those who only stare at length upon a picture in order to discern the required number of differences in a "spot the difference" game evolve to where they can understand this?
    When every random note evokes a sonata, which paints an image, which recalls a word that reminds you of a poem, or simply a graceful phrase uttered once by a beloved voice-- and so on through a long chain of associations...
    is it ever possible to be bored?

  2. I too can never fathom how people can be bored when there are so many fabulous creations of the human mind available in books, music, art, & film ... not to mention nature all around us, as you so aptly point out.
    We are so fortunate to have in our comments section a reader/writer like you, whose "teeming brain" seizes on so many aspects of topics and adds "glimmering" layers of insight to them.

  3. WILHELM THADDEUS FINKNovember 19, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    WOW! Giaconda, I hesitate to even comment. I think your comment PERFECTLY sums up that moment of discovery. Truly an inspired and inspiring outlook on life and art. Happy Monday!

  4. You are both very kind, and I thank you. Hardly a day goes by when I do not learn something from this blog, and I'm delighted to be able to give some back.
    The landscape offered by Daedalus's wide ranging interests is always varied and worth exploring. I am only dismayed when lack of time deprives me of the chance to give each offering its due consideration.
    As I said, you struck a nerve, and so I am talking far too much. I prefer to listen.

  5. I've checked out the Modigliani and Eros in Renaissance paintings, reading gioconda's response to this post I definitely want to look more into Hokusai. cool post today!!!