Unreal Nature

April 21, 2014

Spiritual Indelicacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it …

In the three extracts, below, I’m interested in the transformation and/or conflict between the first and the last. The first is from ‘Art — and the Personal Life’ by Marsden Hartley (1928):

As soon as a real artist finds out what art is, the more is he likely to feel the need of keeping silent about it, and about himself in connection with it. There is almost, these days, a kind of petit scandale in the thought of allying oneself with anything of a professional nature. And it is at this point that I shrink a little from asserting myself with regard to professional aspects of art. And here the quality of confession must break through. I have joined, once and for all, the ranks of the intellectual experimentalists. I can hardly bear the sound of the words “expressionism,” “emotionalism,” “personality,” and such, because they imply the wish to express personal life, and I prefer to have no personal life. Personal art is for me a matter of spiritual indelicacy. Persons of refined feeling should keep themselves out of their painting, and this means, of course, that the accusation made in the form of a querulous statement to me recently that “you are a perfectionist” is in the main true.

Hartley_Landscape_New_Mexico_1916
Landscape, New Mexico, 1916 [image from Wikipedia]

I am interested then only in the problem of painting, of how to make a better painting according to certain laws that are inherent in the making of a good picture — and not at all in private extraversions or introversions of specific individuals. That is for me the inherent error in a work of art. I learned this bit of wisdom from a principle of William Blake’s which I discovered early and followed far too assiduously the first half of my aesthetic life, and from which I have happily released myself — and this axiom was: “Put off intellectual and put on imagination; the imagination is the man.” From this doctrinal assertion evolved the theoretical axiom that you don’t see a thing until you look away from it — which was an excellent truism as long as the principles of the imaginative life were believed in and followed. I no longer believe in the imagination. I rose one certain day — and the whole thing had become changed. I had changed old clothes for new ones, and I couldn’t bear the sight of the old garments. And when a painting is evolved from imaginative principles I am strongly inclined to turn away because I have greater faith that intellectual clarity is better and more entertaining than imaginative wisdom or emotional richness.

Three years later, in 1931 letter to Carl Sprinchorn, Hartley writes:

… I am trying to return to the earlier conditions of my inner life, and take out of experience as it has come to me in the intervening years that which has enriched it, and make something of it more than just intellectual diversion. It can be done with proper attention and that is to be my mental and spiritual occupation from now on. In other words, it is the equivalent of what the religious-minded do when they enter a monastery or a convent and give up all the strain and ugliness of Life itself — and if I were younger with the same experience I am not at all sure I wouldn’t do something like that now.

Finally, six years beyond that letter (and nine years from the 1928 quote), in ‘On the Subject of Nativeness — A Tribute to Maine’ (1937), Hartley writes:

… And so I say to my native continent of Maine, be patient and forgiving, I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it, listening all the while to the slow, rich, solemn music of the Androscoggin [river] as it flows along.

Hartley_RobinHoodCove_1938
Robin Hood Cove, Georgetown, Maine
, 1938 [image from the Whitney Museum site]

-Julie

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