Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Artist and His Public: I Think I Had Too Much Caffein

 A couple of weeks back I got all kvetchy with some guy who seemed to be ordering me to pay attention to a work of art.

Maybe I overdid it.  Here's a more persuasive rendition of the original point.

[T]orpor, rather than fire, was what she had to dread. In those gloomy days that had befallen her, it was a great additional calamity that she felt conscious of the present dimness of an insight which she once possessed in more than ordinary measure. She had lost—and she trembled lest it should have departed forever—the faculty of appreciating those great works of art, which heretofore had made so large a portion of her happiness. It was no wonder. 

A picture, however admirable the painter’s art, and wonderful his power, requires of the spectator a surrender of himself, in due proportion with the miracle which has been wrought. Let the canvas glow as it may, you must look with the eye of faith, or its highest excellence escapes you. There is always the necessity of helping out the painter’s art with your own resources of sensibility and imagination. Not that these qualities shall really add anything to what the master has effected; but they must be put so entirely under his control, and work along with him to such an extent, that, in a different mood, when you are cold and critical, instead of sympathetic, you will be apt to fancy that the loftier merits of the picture were of your own dreaming, not of his creating.
Italics mine.   So Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Marble Faun.  Odd novel, that.  It's a slender story,  a kind of Gothic fairy tale all merchandised with a kind of  Victorian archness that can be almost unreadable.  Still, after you've  had enough of Henry James' characters disporting themselves among the ruins, it can be interesting to pick up Hawthorne and understand him as the great precursor, or at least  precursor.

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