Friday, May 04, 2007

A stretch of river XXXVI: On good old Corot, and Places to Go

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Ville-d'Avray, 1870

It's a misty, grey morning here in Wichita, and/but today there is something about today's light that reminds me of the Corot that hangs at the Nelson-Atkins (NB: the one you see here hangs in the Met but is quite similar in terms of both the scene depicted and, in particular, the quality of its light). Over the years, I've grown more and more appreciative of the Nelson's collection of 19th-century French paintings--it's taught me, for example, that Pisarro's work, more than others', is better appreciated in person. Even so--even though I know those other painters are "better"--it's the Corot I linger and linger in front of, every visit, and for the same reason I wanted to linger this morning and gaze across the river even as Scruffy wanted to chase the squirrel on the fence--a dog's catnip--separating the path from the apartment's pool: not anything remarkable in the scene itself, but the pearlescence of the light illuminating it--no, more like glazing it.

John Berger, whose socialist's sense that art and its appreciation can and should be something that you don't have to wear black and stroke your chin significantly in order to do, writes about Corot with a combination of, on the one hand, disappointment in what Corot might have accomplished but chose not to and, on the other, the value in what he most assuredly does accomplish, for me at least, whenever I stand in front of that landscape in Kansas City:

Corot remained a petit-bourgeois. Matching, pinning, sewing, he was never quite able to shake off the effect of his father's drapery business and his mother's dress-shop.


[But h]e was a petit-bourgeois only in his refusal to speculate on how the world could be changed. This explains why he was timid without being a coward. Instead of questioning, he set out to make his own peace, to avoid all contradictions. He knew it himself: 'Delacroix is an eagle and I'm only a lark. I sing little songs in my grey clouds.' He reveals it unconsciously when he says: 'Charity is a still more beautiful thing than talent. Besides, one benefits the other. If you have a kind heart, your work will show it.' How comfortably without contradictions that 'Besides' is!


Corot was a lovable man. At his best he was an artist of minor genius, comparable to, say, Manet. And let me add--with the due modesty that ought to precede such a statement--that Corot has contributed to many people's happiness. (208-209)

Yes indeed. The Nelson's Van Goghs, the early (and late) Monets, the Manet, they challenge me in various ways with their assertiveness. The Corot "just" makes me happy.

In the meantime, though, Scruffy is tugging at his leash . . . which brings me to the "Places to Go" part of this post. We're on the cusp of finals week here, which means that I can't say when my next post here will appear. So, below the fold, I want to recommend some places worth your visits--assuming, that is, that you have plenty of time, as several of these places will require that of you.

(Aside: I can't decide just now, as the duties of finals week command my attention, whether the blog is analogous to Corot or to the squirrel Scruffy wants to chase. Both are pleasurable, so that doesn't enter into deciding.)


For better or for worse, many of the blogs I visit are kept by people with lots of things to say and who are not shy about taking their time in saying them. I'm as appreciative of the pithy observation as the next guy, but I know as well that some things simply take a longer time to say in order to say them well . . . and I am just as appreciative of that.

Gawain of Heaven Tree, whose blog's post's leisurely pace on leisurely subjects exudes "Man of Leisure," has a wonderful post on one of my very favorite American painters, John Singer Sargent, that is ostensibly about an exhibition of Sargent's paintings done in Venice or on Venetian subjects currently on exhibit in Venice. But it turns into, as well, meditations on technique, on seeking out the proper viewing distance for paintings, "and, as always, love." Reading it, it occurred to me that I like Sargent for the same reason I like Corot: he makes me happy.

Gawain meditates; Hank of A Lake County Point of View does not meditate so much as forays. Hank writes like he's in a hurry, but you can't be when you read him. The title of his most recent post, "Lupins, Wolves, Chinese Romans, Peaches and the Unforgettable Cream," does not quite cover everything that he ends up writing on. It starts out as simple homesickness for Texas Bluebonnets, which, I can attest to, are especially abundant this spring and so are deserving of being homesick over; like Proust's madeleine, though, that homesickness leads to, um, all sorts of other things, places, people, across time and space and cultures. Fully referenced and complete with footnotes-within-footnotes (which are as much a part of the show as the rest of the post and thus are not to be missed), reading this post (and others . . . it's interesting how the color blue seems to inspire these posts of his . . . ) is like reading some hyper-texted cross of Montaigne, the afore-mentioned Proust, David Foster Wallace, and a coy Henry Miller. No one else I've yet run across is doing what Hank is doing--which is a very good thing, seeing as I have enough to read as it is . . . but sad in its way, too.

Also: I gotta get me some sort of footnotes-within-footnotes hack for Blogger . . . or move to Typepad . . .

Hank's longer posts are strange knowledge-maps that reveal the sometimes-odd and -unexpected interconnectedness of things; in a recent post, though, Conrad of Varieties of Unreligious Experience writes about another kind of map: ones all but unreadable except by the person who made it. We tend to think of maps as being objective visual descriptions of places that anyone is able to use with success. But these maps are expressions of a kind of knowledge, as I noted in comments over there, that cannot be taught but only learned.

My long-time blogging compadre Raminagrobis, over at his eponymously-named blog, has up "In Praise of Bathos," a patient discussion of meter and its connection to whatever "bad poetry" might be.

Finally, Randall of Musings from the Hinterland has initiated what this reader, at least, fervently hopes will be an ongoing series called "You Be the Jury" (a more interactive take on The People's Court--or like a "Take Your Blog's Audience to Court" kind of thing). Judging from this first installment, it promises to be both a celebration of the Weird Stuff that People Sue Over and the extent to which the law helps (or hinders) us in thinking about said Weird Stuff.

Still not enough? Then be sure to have a look at the other folks in the "Daily (B)reads" section of the right gutter. They too are worthy of your attention.

As always, thanks for visiting and reading and deigning to come back every once in a while. I'll see you around.

UPDATE: As a bonus to those of you who read this far, I give you the (two) last word(s) in gloriously-vulgar but dead-on movie reviewing, Neil Cumpston.


Ariel said...

Thanks for the window into Corot. I really like the way you merge art and personal, first-hand observation.

Aunty Marianne said...

Mum bought a painting here in Brussels that she quite liked because it reminded her of Corot. One day, a visiting auctioneer told her it WAS a Corot. He pointed out it was signed. We've since established it was probably a pupil, but my mother has been all Hyacinth Bucket about it ever since.

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for the Corot thoughts. Ultimately, isn't art to evoke some feeling within us? Why is "happiness" downplayed?

Thanks for the plug as well. The EMBLOS is gearing up for finals, too.


John B. said...

Ariel, that's very kind of you to say. Not being a trained art historian, I have no choice, most of the time, but to approach art from the perspective of the personal. [insert shameless plug for new art blog here]

Auntie, I'd say your mother is entitled--I know I would do the same. And do recall that highly-respectable museums the world 'round proudly display "School of" and "Studio of" and "Follower of" paintings. Between you and me, I don't know if that will be the fate of paintings by Corot's students, but hey! See Randall's comment.

Randall, I agree. I can see the serious critic's suspicion of "happiness" as something to be aspired to by an artist because (my theory now) we tend not to want to examine the reasons for our happiness too closely for fear of losing it. And the sense I get from the Berger I've read is that, once we get people--ordinary people--past the illusion that "art criticism" requires degrees and the above-mentioned significant chin-stroking and get them to trust their own eyes, then you legitimize "happiness" (that's his whole point, I think, about Corot's art . . . but also about Caravaggio's art in this post. I don't necessarily agree with Berger's social politics, but I emphatically agree with his art-criticism politics: He knows stuff, but his goal is to de-mystify, not mystify, art for humble folk like us.

Of course, I think Berger would want to shake some sense into Thomas Kinkade fans, too . . .

Paul Decelles said...

I took some pictures yesterday (May 6) at the Nelson and will try to go through them this week. I have never taken pictures in a museum before. It felt like thievery to take pictures of some of my favorites. And Corot is among them. Also the Pissaro-not the big one but the little Poplars at Eragny.

What is it Kincade calls himself-Master of Light? What a fibber! There is more mastery of light in that little Monet winter street scene than all of Kincade's dabbles.

John B. said...

I hope you have better luck with your museum pics than I have with mine. And the Pissaro you mention is a favorite of mine.