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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Senses, Impressions, Clouds

What I remember best are impressions rather than details. Ask me if someone I just met wore glasses, how tall or how old he was, whether she had long or short hair, how anyone was dressed, and I may not be able to answer. What I can say is whether or not someone was friendly, seemed happy, was relaxed or hurried, completely full of himself, more interested in others, their stories, their feelings and comfort—or, like most of us, somewhere in between. I remember if meeting someone new for the first time was like meeting an old friend I’d known forever (as it was with painter Suzanne Wilson), and I remember if an attempted conversation seemed to go awry at every turn, mysteriously and uncomfortably.

Carrying a camera has made me more aware of the visual aspects of the world around me, so that even when I forget the camera I tend to see pictures, which means to see my world as well as take in vague impressions of it. Winter hours with pencil and drawing pad give me time to focus in still more closely, to see more detail. My stored photographic images and amateur drawings let me relive wordless passages of time, time that seemed to stand still.

But I am a reader, a sometime writer, a bookseller, hence, someone focused every day on words. My salvation perhaps is that I, essentially verbal and impressionistic, am surrounded by painters, David and friends, people who live primarily through their eyes. David learned about A Theory of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting, by Hubert Damisch (translated by Janet Lloyd), from a friend of ours and has since recommended it to so many friends that I have to carry it at the bookstore. The epigraph in this book reads:
Painting consists of material hellishly woven and of little worth, because if the superficial coating is removed, nobody any longer pays any attention to it.

Jacopo da Pontormo wrote that in a letter to Benedetto Varchi in 1548, and it holds true today, such that an artist who donates work to a nonprofit cause can only deduce on his income tax return the cost of the materials, i.e., canvas, paint and frame. But I digress. Really, I only wanted to say that, just as “horses make the landscape look more beautiful” (Alice Walker), clouds make it possible to look at the sky and see something there. Over the water, above a barn, or adding to a scene already blessed with horses, clouds are worth pausing to appreciate.


Anonymous said...

I am left with impressions more than details as well. Getting the gist of situations has always been easier for me than remembering strands of particulars in the sequence that they occurred. When it comes to writing or speaking, I tend to want to paint a picture with words.

If paintings are only valued by non profits for their canvas and frame, would books similarly only be valued for their paper?

P. J. Grath said...

Now there's a strange thought, eh? I cannot imagine selling my wonderful used book treasures by the pound!