Tuesday, November 24, 2009


We celebrate enlightened thoughts...the historic Ah-Ha's that break through the humdrum of the day-to-day. Inspirations improve our lot with advancements or simply make us see the world differently. This is where science and art weave in and out of each other, which we witness from Leonardo da Vinci to Georges Seurat. Just as profound as the something as big as Albert Einstein's theories are the little leaps that come from less suspecting places. If you have had the experience of being a parent or a teacher, you understand that these little revelations sprinkle a child's development.

My nine year old son, Calder, loves to build things and last night he did something that blew me away. He had a pile of building blocks (which are often branded as Jenga). He made a very simple squarish tower and then, with the palms of his hands, pressed on two edges and transformed the structure into something much more complex. Not only was it rhomboidal but the edges of the blocks created a pattern that Norman Foster would be proud of. His two year old brother immediately took action and razed the building like a little blond Godzilla. Calder then set to work and spent an hour building quite interesting structures and I went the bed happily assured that he had a future as an architect, engineer or builder.

When I awoke another transformation had taken place. My wife had spent the day prior repainting spaces and rooms in our house. Her father is a house and commercial painter in Poland so she grew up with this influence but never ventured beyond simple, clean walls. When I went to bed there was a splotch of a silvery color on a wall, which she was unsure of. When I awoke the color had grown into a landscape around the perimeter of the room, like exotic volcanic formations. (pictured here: a cartoonish acrylic painting I did years ago with tar, broken bottles, beer bottle caps, nails, cigarette butts and synthetic "sleeping bag" with zipper above the new wall painting landscape)

I am currently reading Paul Gauguin: A Life by David Sweetman, (Simon & Schuster, New York 1995). Gauguin came of age in a fascinating time for artists, which spanned the Barbizon school of painters, Impressionists and then the likes of Seurat who introduced divisionism/pointillism. Gauguin deeply contemplated every move...part of it was for profit so he could fix his broken marriage but there was also a genuine side that wanted to advance the arts.

From Paul Gauguin: A Life:

...the 'Notes' (Notes synthetiques by Gauguin) are a first attempt to define an art of the imagination, one which works by awakening sensations rather than simply representing the tangible world. It was an art which would begin not with some object or scene in nature but with the feelings and emotions of the artist. It would no longer be realistic or scientific but subjective and symbolic. In Gauguin's words: "You may describe a tempest to me with talent - you will never succeed in conveying to me the sensation."

This was, of course, precisely what the Barbizon painters, and their successors the Impressionists, had tried to do. Courbet had said: 'Painting is an essentially physical language made up of what is visible. That which is abstract and invisible does not belong to the domain of painting.' Gauguin was now saying exactly the opposite.

He was not the first. Even as the early Impressionists were embarking on their revolution in art, other ideas were also beginning to emerge from artists such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, who had been producing strange mysterious images with magical and religious undertones since the end of the 1870s. True, such works looked odd and individual when set beside the great movement released across Europe by the Impressionists, yet just as Gauguin began writing his 'Notes,' others, mainly writers, were beginning to assemble ideas which were not dissimilar in spirit to these mysterious paintings. Already, in Paris, young poets were tentatively suggesting that Zola's earthy novels about the political and social ills of supposedly 'real' people were not the summit of literature that a previous generation had believed. The poet Stephane Malarme and the critic Joris-Karl Huysmans, who had written so forcefully about Gauguin were emerging as leaders of the new thinking and they took as their starting point Baudelaire's belief that 'the whole of the visible universe is only a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination assigns a place and a relative value, it is a kind of nourishment that the imagination must digest and transform.' Which in his own way was what Gauguin was saying, quite independently, in his Danish attic, far away from the mainstream of intellectual life in France.