Thursday, April 25, 2013
artists in their own words
As a follow-up to re-reading The Selected Writings of John Marin, here is a list of first-person narratives by painters and artists. These books form the core of my art library, and the list below doesn't even include coffee table art books, of which I have many (and many of my favorites contain interviews with the artists, but I have to draw the line somewhere here, or writing this list will become a day-long project). Some of these I re-read every few years. Others not so much, but they still contain seeds of genius and solid information about work habits and process, which can often feel like a life preserver tossed to the floundering and even drowning, if you get my drift. I am just going to list titles here, the publication information is readily available online or by searching this very blog, since I have written about many of these books here over the years (search my blog by using that little search box in the upper left hand corner of this page - type in the name of the artist, or the book title). This list is roughly in chronological order. I would have liked to have been assigned some of these books to read, as an art major in college, but I'm glad I had the wherewithal to seek them out on my own, so, you know, no hard feelings. Water under the bridge and all that.
I've put an asterisk after the books that mean worlds to me.
Ancient history (so to speak):
On Painting - Leon Battista Alberti
The Lives of the Artists - Giorgio Vasari
Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag
Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun
Memoirs of the Life of John Constable*
The Journal of Eugene Delacroix
Noa Noa - Paul Gaugin
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh*
An American Artist in the South Seas - John LaFarge
The Recollections of John Ferguson Weir 1869-1913
The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir
The Digressions of V. - Elihu Vedder
Drawn from Memory - Ernest H. Shepard
Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck - Philip C. Beam
Letters - Paul Cezanne
John Sloan's New York Scene 1906-1913*
The Art Spirit - Robert Henri*
Hawthorne on Painting - Charles W. Hawthorne*
The Wyeths: The Letters of N.C. Wyeth 1901-1945*
Concerning the Spiritual in Art - Wassily Kandinski
Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley
Eight Poems and an Essay - Marsden Hartley
My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz 1912-1915
My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Volume One 1915-1933*
A Woman on Paper: Georgia O'Keeffe - Anita Pollitzer
The Selected Writings of John Marin*
My Life - Marc Chagall
Background with Figures - Cecilia Beaux
Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr*
Frederick J. Waugh: American Marine Painter - George R. Havens
The Journals of Grace Hartigan 1951-1955
Material Witness: The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter
Art in its Own Terms: Selected Criticism 1935-1975 - Fairfield Porter*
The Party's Over Now - John Gruen
Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons*
Dawns & Dusks - Louise Nevelson*
The Sound of Sleat: A Painter's Life - Jon Schueler
Art & Soul - Audrey Flack
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol*
The Andy Warhol Diaries*
What Did I Do? The Unauthorized Autobiography of Larry Rivers
Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files
Daybook - Anne Truitt
Agnes Martin: Writings*
The Time of My Life - Emily Muir
Chuck Reducks: Drawing from the Fun Side of Life - Chuck Jones
Peanuts: A Golden Celebration - Charles M. Schulz
A few books in this list do not have much first-person writing by the artist in question, because there isn't much available, but what little there is, is here (for example, a few known letters from Winslow Homer, or brief sections of the book about marine painting that Frederick J. Waugh never published himself), and I have found even those little bits to be valuable, so I include them. I didn't include books I know about but don't have, or have but haven't yet read. Rockwell Kent, for example - I love many of his paintings but have not read his books. And Marie Bashkirtseff, I have her Journal but there it sits on the shelf. And Love Locked Out: The Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt, ditto. The Letters & Journals of Paula Modersohn-Becker, ditto ditto. I did include Charles M. Schulz, because in this particular book he explains some of the real-life stuff behind specific story lines in his comic strips - and the same with Chuck Jones and his genius animation sequences.
One more book I must tell you about, since I've turned to it often over the years as a great browsing book: Painters on Painting - selected and edited by Eric Protter and published by Dover. A chronological list of samples of known historical documents written by painters in their own words, and in a few cases by friends or historians if no known documents exist, from Giotto, Fra Angelico, Ucello, Bottielli, Leonardo da Vinci (oh, I forgot to mention that I also have a huge reprint of his Diaries, but I haven't yet read a word), Titian, etc., up through history to some of the moderns of the twentieth century. Short entries, this isn't a huge book, but I love its scope and interesting bits and pieces. God bless Dover books, for this book in particular, and also for just being generally awesome.
I would also like to mention, so I will, a great series of reprints of old art books, called The Library of American Art, published in the 1960s by Kennedy Galleries, Inc., in New York, and Da Capo Press. I have four volumes so far and would like to find more. All are reprints of scarce nineteenth-century art books about American painters. I am about to start reading one of these - The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley by Martha Babcock Amory. Originally published in Boston in 1882, the reprint I have is from 1969 and contains many of Copley's letters, along with letters from his family, during his education and travels to England and Italy as a student and then as a working painter. I thought this would be a great follow-up to continue reading about colonial and federal America, after finishing the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin last week. I'll let you know how it goes.
A few more items of interest that I know about and want to read, sometime soon - the Keith Haring Journals, Gerhard Richter's Writings 1961-2007, and Nell Blaine's Diaries (her papers are at Harvard and I've heard that her diaries are wonderful, but will if they ever be published? I do not know, so if anyone else does, please tell me). If anyone has titles to add to this list, especially published diaries of artists, please comment. You know I am always starving for good books...
I see I haven't even mentioned biographies of artists, or art instruction books, besides the classics by Henri and Hawthorne above, or any the great art blogs out there at this very moment, and omg youtube videos, painters' diaries unfolding before our eyes. Well, I'll have to save all that for another day.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
This week I feel like I've been able to hit the reset button, somewhat. To recenter, refocus, and... re-read. That last bit, especially. As I've mentioned here before, comfort reading - which I've been in need of recently - for me almost always involves re-reading. No surprises please (at least, not in general, since my memory isn't the best), no ambushes by unpleasant subject matter, instead a return to the known and the loved. Which thankfully comes in many forms. This week I revisited and took refuge in the writings of the modernist painter John Marin, whose house in Maine was not far from my own childhood home, even though he himself had already exited this vale of tears long before I was born. Simply because of the proximity of his aura, however, I can say that his life has directly influenced mine. And now, as I try to find my way in life as a painter, and right the ship, as it were, re-reading his words brings an immense comfort and sense of homecoming. In a fragmented package, too, because his writing style is as his paintings are - himself with no excuses or apologies, full of his unique seeing and individual mark-making. He is not my favorite painter, by any means, but that fragmented way of his means a lot to me. He sees the details and notes them one by one, and simultaneously sees the big picture, and attempts "To paint disorder under a big order." (p.46) Also, of course I love hearing him describe places that I myself love, up and down the Maine coast. Again, the known and the loved. The difficult and the beautiful. Home.
I see I am getting ahead of myself - the above quote is from the book I'm re-reading, The Selected Writings of John Marin, edited by Dorothy Norman (Pellegrini & Cudahy 1949), and it consists mostly of Marin's letters to Alfred Stieglitz. Many of the letters are from Marin's summer painting trips to Maine, and are hence of even greater interest to me than they might otherwise have been. Because when I'm not painting myself, I want to know how everyone else manages to get it done, so I usually have several art books going at once, and am always on the lookout for first-person narratives from painters of all kinds. Especially those who worked and lived in Maine. Well, Marin's book is strange and great and written with lovely disregard for the rules of punctuation (he reminds me of Byron in this way - lots and lots of dashes and very few full stops), just as his painting sets its own rules, and meets his own requirements. He asks himself, of his work, "What have I done? I don't know - Is the way clear? - It is never clear - " (p.23) And yet he continues to search and question, and find, all his life. Wonderful news, this is.
A side note. When I left home to go to college, I did not know I was going to study art history and learn to paint, until I got there. The museum at my school is a good one, and is about to become even better with a recent gift and expansion, but what I loved most when I was there was a quiet little room full of paintings by John Marin. Several were made a few miles from my old home. They were always on display, as part of the museum's permanent collection, and I could see them as often as I liked. What a gift of peace that room was, to a struggling, homesick college student. Even now I revisit those works of art. Re-read them, in a way. While thinking about home, what home means, and how even when it is fragmented, or broken really, it still feels like home. And it is possible to revisit, and to see anew. As the goofy novelist Tom Robbins said, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
Another side note. My upcoming painting shows are now listed in the mini-blog on my website, here.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
running on empty
Well, what a week. I have been sitting here trying to write about it and nothing is happening. And there is a lot I could say. Having to do with anger about the bombings in Boston, relief Ryan and I were not there this year, gratitude that our friends who ran the marathon are safe, and if that wasn't enough, despair over our cowardly senators who voted against gun control, and disbelief that part of a town in Texas has blown up, and oh yeah, outrage that someone tried to kill the president by sending him poison in the mail. I mean, HOLY GOD. And you know what, there it all is, and I just don't want to talk about any of it. Instead I will tell you about my day yesterday. It was a warm spring day, one of only two so far this year (the first was Monday), and I walked around town for a few hours with my sketchbook, drawing out some ideas for paintings, just taking pleasure in looking intently at things and places and views I have grown to love on my almost-daily walks. I went down one street to the beach, walked the shoreline for a long way, then up the bank and along the edge of the train tracks, back into town, up Main Street, and finally on to our little home street, in a big loop. Seen along the way: neighbors, friendly dogs, islands, open ocean, an osprey fishing, a runner wearing blue and gold, songbirds, catkins, the skeleton of a house that burned down recently, girls on rollerskates, woolly bear caterpillars, and a flag man at the road construction site on Main Street, who was singing "Fly Me to the Moon" loudly and well. I came home feeling empty, in a good way. Scoured out, open, continuing to live life, accepting that grief and death are close friends who will come calling whether you invite them to or not. When terrible things happen, this new layer of sadness appears, and we are aware of it like an invisible undertow in otherwise calm waters. But these events create another new layer too, one of resolve, and that runs just as deep. In fact one is strong, but the other, stronger.
Thank you to long-distance friends who remembered that Ryan is a marathon runner and asked if we were all right. Ryan's three marathons in Boston are wonderful memories and will remain so. The running community in Maine and elsewhere is a supportive, loving family and we feel lucky to be part of it. Peace, everyone.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
knowing and not-knowing
I have emerged from the massive Diana Gabaldon novels as a wee hibernating mole might, or a more likely a sleepy bookworm, blinking at the light, wondering what I've missed, and oh, whatever has happened to that long stretch of dreary weather and those cold temperatures? Oh wait, I see they are still right here. And yet, there are also crocuses and hints of green grass and buds on the trees, and the last tiny snow patch has finally melted away from behind the north side of the woodpile. Spring, is that really you? Yes, and yet I find myself already wishing for Fall in a weird way, since I see from Gabaldon's website that her new novel will be published many months from now. Since I must necessarily read other books between now and then, and since Benjamin Franklin makes an appearance in one of the Gabaldon novels (and besides, I was feeling most at home in the eighteenth century and am reluctant to depart), I find it natural to turn to his writings once again. I haven't finished reading his Letters yet, but am enjoying my foray into the Autobiography. At Goodwill I bought an old Signet Classics edition from 1961, printed with legible type on decent paper, imagine that. Here, you can see why Franklin is endearing to me, and what good company he quickly becomes:
"From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books." (p.26)
In colonial Boston, he apprentices at a very young age to his older brother, who is a printer, and thus Franklin enters the world of letters:
"I now had access to better books. An acquaintance with the apprentices of booksellers enabled me sometimes to borrow a small one, which I was careful to return soon and clean. Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night, when the book was borrowed in the evening and to be returned early in the morning, lest it should be found missing or wanted." (p.27)
He is truly a voracious reader, and learned to read very early in life, in fact,
"...I do not remember when I could not read..." (p.22)
I don't think I do, either, come to think of it. I have frighteningly literate parents and grew up in households full of books, and I read widely, early on. I simplify somewhat here, but I often wonder if my years in the book business have merely been misguided attempts to rebuild the lost homes of my childhood. How's that for a five-cent psychiatric diagnosis? But I'm not being flippant - rooms with walls and walls of books have been central to my comfort and happiness, for years. And yet I also love the outdoors, especially wild places where there is precisely none of that, no sign of human endeavor, no need to explain and learn and know. Thank goodness I feel at home there, too. A different kind of knowing takes place, one without words, perhaps what is called not-knowing, in Zen. Then I come back inside, and fall in love with words all over again! A good problem to have, I think. Nothing wrong with knowing (and not-knowing), in whatever form it comes to you. I'm looking forward to proceeding hand in hand with Benjamin Franklin, to see how he managed it, that tricky balance between love of reading and the rest of life. Right after I take a long walk outside.