Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lost Art and How to Restore It

My New Year began with a treat.  My granddaughter, Lily, a third grader, attends Schuylkill Elementary School.  Each month, her teacher invites a “mystery reader” to come in and read a book to the class.  Before the event, she provides some clues to the reader’s identity.  The children try to guess who it is.

My clues were: someone who works with colors; someone who likes to go to museums; someone who makes things to see.

On January 3, Lily guessed it was me.

I read When Pigasso met Mootisse by Nina Laden, a delightful tale of Pigasso, a talented pig, meeting Mootisse, an artistic bull, and their relationship.

At the end of the book, biographies of Matisse and Picasso tell the “real” story.

In the real story, Matisse said this to Picasso: “We must talk to each other as much as we can.  When one of us dies, there will be some things the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else.”

That gave me pause.

While I never said those exact words to Ed Loper (see the post Mysticism in Art), I certainly understand their veracity.  What are the “things” artists talk about with each other?  Why are they unable to talk with anyone else about them?

Here’s why.

I brought in a few of my paintings to show the students.  They wanted to know: (1) If I was famous; (2) How much each painting cost; (3) How long it took to paint each one.

I told them none of that mattered to me, that fame and fortune were overrated.  I painted pictures because I loved the process.  When I see a world full of color and meaning, I am happy.  I told them it was hard work, but my reward came when someone looked at one of my pictures and appreciated it, enjoyed it by understanding it.  I told them each picture took 70 years to paint, because that is how long I have been seeing.

Their eyes glazed over.

This is heady stuff for 8 year olds.

But it is what Ed and I would discuss. 

When I visited him a few weeks before he died, I told him I wrote about his picture Table and Flowers (see Pentimento).   I asked him why he no longer “fractured” his spatial planes.  I asked him why he now adapted visual ideas from Renoir and Bonnard rather than Cézanne. 

He told me he could not paint “that way” anymore. 

“Could not, or would not?” I questioned.  “Could not,” he said.  “I see differently now,” he told me.

“But you always argued Renoir was a dead end.  You said he did not leave any ideas for other artists to develop.” 

He gave me one of his “looks,” a combination of a smirk and a challenge: “I haven’t the least idea.  You figure it out,” he said.

And so it went.  We talked about the loneliness of making pictures.  We talked about how hard it was, as time went on, to feel inspired.  We talked about the strength of our interest in doing the work.

When I read to him what I had written about his picture, he thanked me.  He said, “I had no idea I did all that.”

The best compliment I ever received.

Dr. Barnes said:

To see as an artist sees is an accomplishment to which there is no short cut, which cannot be acquired by any formula or trick; it requires not only the best energies of which we are capable, but a methodical direction of those energies, based upon scientific understanding of the meaning of art and its relation to human nature. (Art in Painting, 7)  

This New Year, I thank Albert Barnes, Violette de Mazia, Angelo Pinto, Harry Sefarbi, Barton Church, and Edward Loper for inviting me into their world.  Their teaching and/or writing and painting informed my vision and my life. 

You, the readers of and responders to these posts, by your commitment to this process, continue the conversation.  We talk of “these things” with each other, and in so doing, according to Dr. Barnes, we build up the habits of perception and background which admit us to the world of aesthetic experience.       


  1. Marilyn,

    It is so interesting, this post. The hours he and I just talked. How we explained things to eachother... And explained about what we thought the other person was doing. Most of it died with him... And lots of it will disappear with my memory. What I love about your analysis is most times you see what we were talking to eachother and are spot on... Or maybe we were spot on and we made it so you see it. LOL.

    Thanks for your love of our special friend.

  2. Thanks for understanding Tom. It works both ways, doesn't it? We say things to each other that helps us see more, and in our pictures we show what we discover to share it. I am so grateful I have perceptive people like you joining me in the adventure.

  3. A lot of the paintings I have collected over the years are unsigned or by artists about whom I have no information. I will never have occasion to ask them why or how or why not.... Not really important to me. Even some artists for whose paintings I do have information - except those few I know personally, I would have to look up again.
    When a painting "speaks" to me it is the art and not the painter I want to hang on to and invite onto my walls. For me certain works are in the manner of... a water garden by Monet, for instance - or a type of distortion like that of Francis Bacon for another example. I can certainly never own a painting by Bacon or Monet, but I can enjoy expressions similar to or inspired perhaps by their work in paintings I have on my walls.
    All this is to say that restoring "lost" art - art by artists no longer with us comes in many manifestations.