Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Barn with Hay, and Deep Thoughts

The following is from the book Road-Side Dog by Czeslaw Milosz.  It's a collection of prose poems.  The above pastel is 8x10 on sabretooth paper, which has an oatmeal surface.


We strove, but our goals disintegrated one after another and now we have nothing except works of art and our tribute paid to their creators.
Also sorrow and compassion.  For an artist, a poet or a painter, toils and pursues every day a perfection that escapes him.  He is satisfied with the result of his labor for a moment only, and is never certain whether he is good at what he does.
Many share the fate of that painter.  He was not concerned with earthly possessions, he lived and dressed haphazardly, and his sacred word was: "To work." Every morning he would stand before his easel, working all day, but no sooner had he finished than he would put his canvas in the corner and forget it, to start a new picture in the morning, always with new hope.  His attempt to pass the examination for the School of Beaux Arts was unsuccessful.  He loved masters of painting, old and contemporary, but had no hope of equaling them.  Detesting worldly life, as it would lure him away from work, he stayed apart.  He lived with his model, with whom he had a son, and after seventeen years of cohabitation he married her.  His paintings were systematically rejected by the Salons.  He needed confirmation of his worth, but though his friends praised him, he did not believe them and considered himself a failed painter.  He would kick and trample his canvases or would give them away freely.  In his old age he despaired over his failure but continued to paint every day.  In his native town, where he lived, he was slighted and hated; it's hard to tell why, for he did not harm anybody and helped the poor.  Uncouth, in stained clothes with ripped-off buttons, he looked like a scarecrow and was a laughing-stock of children.  His name was Paul Cezanne.
This tale may  comfort many readers, since it confirms the familiar pattern of greatness not recognized and crowned late.  However, there were numberless artists, similarly humble and hardworking, often living not far from us, whose names mean nothing today.

Cezanne, despite the frustrations and lack of success in his life, was still able to spend most of it painting.  I have stood in front of some of his great landscapes and still-lifes.  He must have had a few moments of profound joy creating some of these works.  I certainly have felt it when in their presence.   Do the numberless artists also experience that occasional joy?  Why else work?


Kelly M. said...

what else can we do . . . ? our art is our child -- we create it, we rail against it, we adore it, we can't live without it. we may look hopeless but i suppose we are not if we keep creating. thank you for sharing the story --

Bob Lafond said...

Kelly, I like to think of it as giving ourselves away, taking the chance even though becoming vulnerable, because the smallest rewards make it worthwhile. Thanks.