Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the shadow on the white wall at sunrise and the sea and the honeycomb...


"it was a hot day in june when i came to s. quirico. the midday gun had sounded half an hour before; all the world was sleeping. half afraid that i should disturb a siesta, i knocked at the door of the of the canonica and presently the priest himself appeared, a sever yet kindly man who little by little beginning to smile was content to show me what treasures he had. one of thm at least i shall never forget. for after uncovering, not without much trouble and many dim mutterings, the madonna of the place, a picture perhaps by domenico puligo, where mary holds christ in her arms who has just grown weary of playing with s. giovannino, he led me behind the high altar where there was hidden one of the most beautiful of those giattoesque crucifixes which i have so loved. how weary one grows of all of the realistic pictures in the world; sometimes they press upon one in the galleries where they are prisoners like an immense crowd of outraged people who can never die, whom we have imprisoned to stare at and criticize at our leisure. it is only of those pictures, half pattern, half the impassioned gesture of a dream, of which we never grow tired or weary whatever they be, and then it is most often alone in some forgotten place like this church at rubella that we find them. and for what have we forgotten them: for the discontented tireless genius of the world. what sort of man is he who could hope to live in the presence even of so lovely a thing as mona lisa, or who could bear to stay always near the assunta of titian? these and such as these are too subtle or too strong for us, we look at them as we look at the sun and pass into shadow. but those pictures of the annunciation, or the nativity, or the coronation of the madonna, those early crucifixes too, full of an exquisite pattern of line and colour, mere multi-coloured shadows on the wall, we can bear all day long, they seem to fall in with one's mood, to be content to minister to us, and will never thrust themselves upon us or compel us to suffer some strong and profound emotion that to know for a moment is pleasure, but torture to endure is for ever. who indeed could bear to sleep beneath a picture of the crucifixion by any later painter; but under such a thing as this cross in s. quirco one might be content, not to sleep only, but to die; it is just a beautiful symbol, a shadow on the white wall at sunrise and sunset, of the thought that is in our hearts. and then if you want reality, look you, there are the hills and the gardens: and if indeed you would see the madonna, as perhaps she was, why there she sits - is it not so? - under the cypresses in the cool of the day not far from the house, singing to her little son. when will art again as in duccio's day free itself from the convention of reality, and return to the convention of beauty."

edward hutton, country walks about florence, 1908

"paradise lost is a good example of the long poem. milton is always there, holding his hand beneath you. he doesn't want you to fall. when angels appear, he suggest the proper attitude to take toward angels. in short, he tells you what to think. he has a a huge hand underneath you. in a brief poem, it is all different: the poet takes the reader to the edge of a cliff, as a mother eagle takes its nestling, and then drops him. readers with a strong imagination enjoy it, and discover they can fly. the others fall down on the rocks where they are killed instantly. the poet who succeeds in writing a short poem is like a man who has found his way through a stone wall into valley miles long, where he lives. he walks back up the valley, and opens a door in the wall for an instant to show you where the entrance is. the more imaginative readers are able to slip through in the twenty or thirty seconds it takes to read his poem. those who expect the poet to give them ideas see only a vague movement on the side of the mountain. before they have turned all the way around to the face of the poem, the door has closed. readers of ancient poetry are used to staggering along under lines swelled with the rhetoric of philosophy courses, experiences under mind expanding drugs, new criticism - in short, the world of prose. they find it hard at first to concentrate on a short poem, but eventually they learn to find some value in being dropped."

robert bly, introduction to the anthology: the sea and the honeycomb, a book of tiny poems, 1971

two long quotes about the benefits of abstraction and brevity, from two books randomly picked up at a local library sale (one was a dollar, and one 50 cents...). both quotes directed towards the deeper immersions in art and poetry, neither without problems, yet both entering territory of the utmost importance, at least to my eyes and ears... and for some reason they felt, to me, quite connected.

the photograph (a snapshot from the 1920's), was also found sunday for a buck, and as if the glue that binds all things, seems entirely an image of bly's "open door" and in feeling, hutton's "shadows on the wall"... bly's words regarding the difference between long poems and short ones also seems quite relevant in relation to the collecting of snapshots as opposed to high art photographs, certainly in relation to the latter being seen in an art space with a capital A, and the former, a gem usually discovered in a dusty box amongst a thousand unremarkables. its beauty, probably accidental rather than intentional, also speaks volumes in relation to hutton's ideas around abstraction, where image is never completely gone, but one can still wander amongst the patterns within an image based composition. it's a world, or perhaps a netherworld, hovering between the "convention of reality" and the "convention of beauty".

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