~ On the Artist and the Unseeing Layman

February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

This morning, I was part of the lucky bunch that had a ticket for the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris at 5:30am (yes, the exhibition has been so popular it’s been open 24/7 – talk about keen…).

Despite having to get up at an hour that is more than inappropriate for a Sunday, I wasn’t sorry I went: the exhibition was truly enlightening and one quotation about Hopper’s paintings struck a chord.

Charles Burchfield wrote about Hopper’s art:

From what is to the mediocre artist and unseeing layman the boredom of everyday existence in a provincial community, he has extracted that quality we may call poetic, romantic, lyric, or what you will. By sympathy with the particular he has made it epic and universal.

And I thought to myself how true this is about literature as well.

The transformation our world undergoes when written about by someone else is what I would call a literary ‘axiom’ to me. It is what makes reading so enjoyable but also enriching, opening new windows of thought. Having a style so unique it changes a person’s perception differentiates the artist from the ‘unseeing layman’ – whether it be literature, painting, music, photography or cinema.

It is a property of literature – good literature – that it can talk about anything and make it exceptional; an example that was given to me before was Chekov’s Cherry Orchard in which nothing happens yet is considered a masterpiece. What makes it ‘poetic, romantic, lyric’ is the lens, the vision. The ‘boredom of everyday’ is broken because the usual is made new, described in an unusual way. I insist on this matter because it is at the core of this blog. Virginia Woolf’s ‘moment of being’ is the flash that allows you to see clearly, for no more than an instant, the moving quality of what usually goes by unnoticed. Art is then an invaluable gift that has the power to make great what is usually insignificant.

And so, all the time, writers depict ordinary lives, mediocre lives, taking the step back that allows them to give these stories a meaning – the one that we so lack as we live imprisoned in the everyday but for the occasional flicker of light when everything, for a glorious instant, is beautifully clear; where, for a moment, ‘the pearl [is] handed to [you]’.*



* Jack Kerouac, On the Road


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