Monday, August 18, 2014


Nothing makes me happier  than a big pile of books by my bed.

Right now that includes On Writing by Stephen King, The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art (about icons), by Hans Belting, Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Broken Vessels (an old favorite) by Andre Dubus, and Edward Hirsch's The Demon and the Angel.

The one I'm actually reading, and taking my time on, is The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, by Michael Kimmelman. (Which I learned about from Altoon Sultan's excellent blog, Studio and Garden: she posted on the chapter about the painter Pierre Bonnard and his possibly pathological but art-generating relationship with his muse, Marthe de Meligny).

The Accidental Masterpiece is one of my favorite kind of books, meandering about to various subjects (The Quilts of Gee's Bend, the paintings of Chardin), touching on all kinds of things I know a little about and now want to know more (Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas; Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece), and introducing me to people I've never heard of (painter Horace Pippin, Michael HeizerCharlotte Salomon, who quietly, more or less invisibly created a "roughly 1.300-page quasi-fictional diary of text and pictures," then died at Auschwitz).

QUILT (4 BLOCK STRIPS), c. 1960,
78 x 73 INCHES,

One of Kimmelman's best reflections is on Chardin. Here's an excerpt: 

"The art historian Michael Baxandall has pointed out how, by causing viewers to linger over his various little objects, Chardin was subtly devising works that have multiple points of focus, and thereby expressing contemporaneous theories about how we do not take in complex space all at once but instead piece together the accumulated perception of different colors and shapes...

We are a society of families surrounded by the objects we have accumulated, which can become part of the family, too. We become more or less attached to these things, as to pets and people. All writers about Chardin point out that a small and specific pictorial family reappears again and again in his art, a family of cups and pans. We recognize them as we do friends after a while. Chardin's attendance on their condition, and by extension our attendance, because of the eloquence of his painting, can be so loving and complete that it approaches transference. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the photographer, who spent his last decades monkishly drawing copies of Chardin's and other artists' paintings in the Louvre, pointed out that in Chardin's famous picture of a dead ray  hanging gutted from a hook, the ray looked as if it were crucified. This dovetails with Proust's equally fantastic metaphor for the ray as 'the nave of a polychrome cathedral.' Somehow even Chardin's pictures of food prompt thoughts of God." 



  1. I'm just going to make one of those silly Woe is Me comments. I am totally envious that you could read all that stuff. I myself am such a slow reader (I still subvocalize, probably because I'm slightly dyslexic combined with a below average grade school education that I exacerbated by not studying) that I generally read poems and philosophy and spirituality stuff that I can take in small bites. War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov, no chance. I did read Kristin Lavransdatter though. It took 2 years of reading anywhere from 15-30 minutes per night before going to sleep! Good thing is, I do meditate as deeply as possible on whatever I do end up reading.

  2. I may as well put in a more serious comment.
    I spent my third year of college in Innsbruck, Austria at the school founded by St. Peter Canisius. Jesuits ran the "Old University" as it was called, since the State had long since started a "New University" that was secular. I was fortunate enough to have most of my classes at the old school. One class was art appreciation and the professor was quite eccentric, to say the least. However, I learned more about art from one thing he did in his class than everything I have ever read from books combined: We would travel to some Monastery or museum and look at only 1 piece of art for the entire class. And the professor was very strict. The main rule was that we would all look at the piece of art for 15 minutes in complete silence. Any comment before that time was a deduction from your grade for the class for that day. I got many deductions in the early classes, but none by the end of semester. And from that meditation and subsequent discussion, I learned how to analyze art better.
    And we students felt a lot of togetherness stopping by for coffee or drinks on our way back to the University which had a baroque Church as its center, flanked to the right with the school of philosophy and to the left with the school of theology.


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