Monthly Archives: December 2007

Endless starting points

Ultimately, each of us experiences only one conflict in life which constantly reappears under a different guise, — mine is to reconcile life with work, in the purest sense; and where it is a question of the infinitely incommensurable work of the artist, the two directions stand opposed. Many people have helped themselves by taking life easily, by snatching what they needed from it apart from the conflict, or by turning life’s values into an intoxication whose wretched enthusiasms they hurriedly flung into art; others have no alternative but to withdraw from life — asceticism — and this way is of course much cleaner and truer than that rapacious cheating of life for the sake of art. But for me even asceticism cannot be considered. Since in the last analysis my productivity proceeds from the plainest adoration of life, from the daily, inexhaustible wonder of it (how could I have been productive otherwise?) — I would see it as a lie to reject any one of the currents that flow towards me; in the end every such failure must express itself in your art — however much art may gain potentially from it — as a certain hardness, and there take its revenge: for who can be open and affirmative on such sensitive ground if he has a mistrustful, restrictive and anxious attitude towards life! So one learns, oh how slowly, that life travels over endless starting-points — to what end, finally, can one apply one’s little abilities?
   Rodin often brooded on this in his old age. Sometimes, at five in the morning, I found him standing in the garden, lost in contemplation of the slopes of Sèvres and St. Cloud which slowly rose out of the wonderful autumn mists of the Seine, as though they were coming into the world faultlessly fashioned, — there he stood, the old one, and pondered: “What end can I serve when I gaze in wonder at the richness of it all, this morning…?” A year later, and he did not understand even this, simply could not understand it, had long been unable to, for an influence, a fatality far inferior to him had wrapped him round and swallowed him up in darkness and confusion from which no ray of splendour shone!

Rilke, letter to the Countess M. (trans. R.F.C. Hull)

Spider love

Hither I come to seeke the spring,
And at mine eyes, and at mine eares,
Receive such balmes, as else cure every thing;
But O, self traytor, I do bring
The spider love, which transubstantiates all,
And can convert Manna to gall,
And that this place may thoroughly be thought
True Paradise, I have the serpent brought.

— John Donne

A Portrait in the Gallery

As a student of still life photographs, Stuart Westly would wander the New York Museum of Photography during his lunch hour and during the weekends whenever there was a new exhibit to such an extent, the admissions lady would usually wave him through the turnstile and the guards would recognize him and nod, occasionally letting him stay long after closing. While he loved the stark reality of the black and whites, he was always drawn to “Exhibit 582: Digichromatographic color print from a glass plate;” otherwise known as “Unidentified Girl, New York, 1907,” photographed by Randolph Morton Phillips, a renowned Gilded-Age portrait artist and protégée of legendary Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, but what always lured him to the print was the fact that it was a full length, life-size photo of a stunning, young dark-haired Gibson Girl-type, head playfully cocked, caught in half-smile, her beautiful brown doe-like eyes looking out from beneath a large flowery hat spoke to him across the ages in a way women his age did not and could not. Even though he had researched extensively online and among the dusty shelves at the New York Public Library, he knew too little about her and yearned to know more; what she was like, if she had a happy life, what was her world like, had she been a lover of the photographer as some had surmised, what happened as soon as the shutter clicked and possibly, most importantly, why that taunting smile upon her blossoming lips? He would linger in front of the portrait for such extended periods that visitors to the museum would cautiously walk around him and the guards even once brought him a chair, which he never used, believing it would demonstrate impassivity. Feeling as if he somehow knew her all of his life and aware that he had fallen hopelessly in love with her, it did not disconcert him the one rainy afternoon when the museum was virtually empty that her hand somehow reached out to him, imploring his in return. Instinctively, he took her hand and was gently guided into her Victorian world, forever leaving his world behind, all of his questions soon to be answered; the true nature of the smile being revealed as having grown from a young lady who too was looking at a museum painting of a man she felt she had known all of her life, but had never met, until now.

Joseph Grant

Diego at the mission

Diego’s hair is white and thin-wreathed above his ears, thick and hard around his muzzle and spotty in deep valleys between his temples and his chin. No metaphor does justice to the slow death we all fight for even at the Mission; there’s no sex in the details and we’re not well worn leather or dry mud brick or other things with function. Old age is pain and medicine and penance for our youth; we are wise now but too weak to right the many wrongs we did on purpose. Old age is futile Purgatory and we sin in preparation.

Christopher Cocca