Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Portraits of the Artists

I was very surprised that no British newspaper except The Daily Telegraph ran an obituary of Sol LeWitt this morning. He was not a demonstrative person, of course; the work was more interesting than the life (and much harder to describe). It got me thinking about the depiction of artists; many more people now read biographies of writers than, I'd guess, go through the work itself (Holroyd's Shaw being the most doorstopping case in point).
Painters and poets have alway seemed colourful and interesting to people who may not be interested in what they do; a point which some artists attempt to reinforce (I'm thinking of Klein because I've just seen his show, and because he took it to quite remarkable degrees). LeWitt's work was undertaken by assistants, as Damien Hirst's often is, but if architects are artists, if feature films can be art, why should that matter? The idea of the artist still lay behind it. Think too of the individualistic myth of, say, Pollock or Rothko or Bacon.
I rather prefer the approach of Magritte or TS Eliot: live like a bourgeois and let the work do the revolution. As Chesterton put it: "Artistic temperament is for amateurs". But it may simply be a kind of reverse vanity, showing off by retreating. Is that what Pynchon and Salinger are up to?
But artists, poets and composers don't often convince me in fiction. There are a few obvious exceptions: Gully Jimson and Enderby seem real to me, and I can quite easily believe in the kind of painter Charles Ryder was, or in X Trapnel. Novelists on the whole are more convincing. Some artists are annoyingly good writers: I remember liking Michael Ayrton's The Maze Maker a lot, but it's years since I read it.
Films can sometimes be quite good at it (convincing artists). John Maybury's Love is the Devil and the recent biopic of Pollock. Not Lust for Life, but that may be my dislike of van Gogh. I like Vincente Minnelli. I may be the only person who really liked Life Lessons, the Scorcese section of New York Stories. I'd like to see him tackle a biopic of Rothko.

I have a terrible cold and wish I could drink whisky.

today's picks:
sf: The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley
crime: The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey (though of course, he did do it really, and she's quite wrong, as are all that pro-Richard lot. They're like the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon theorists)
unfairly unknown: The Death of Men, Allan Massie (inspired by the Aldo Moro kidnapping and, it suddenly occurs to me, quite likely to fall foul of the glorifying terror legislation. Also has a truly wonderful first sentence: "I am a dandy who can no longer be troubled to dress.")
lunch: sushi, with lots of wasabi and ginger to fend off cold; dinner: beef curry with lots of chilli and ginger to fend off cold.
current condition: very sore throat, nose running like a tap