Monday, April 20, 2009

The glory of mine eyes.

Jenna Kantor (American recent)

Over the last few months I've noticed an interest among critics in the works great artists generated as, or just before, they died.  There was this New York Times 'Science' section feature, a wrenching look at the geriatric Impressionists whose collective zeitgeist for dappling color resonance turned out to know no tougher a mortal adversary than cataracts and the poor state of surgery in the early 20th century.  Then there was Roberta Smith's survey of the final act Picasso exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery--it's a weirdly human coda to a career that often buoyed on fantastic stylisms and extraterrestrial concepts of basic things. Looking at the pictures (Times Online offers an audio tour narrated by Ms. Smith ) the viewer is left with a reverent sense for an artist who arrived at his own naked humanity in the eleventh hour.  The myriad devices which defined Picasso's career meet with suggestions of failing senses, spiritual fatigue--even doubt, and an overarching technical approach that just looks less constrained by gravitational pesterings.   

I've always enjoyed this final sobriety in peak works: Mahler's 9th Symphony, Kafka's aphorisms from Zurich--even his never-to-be-completed The Castle, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Sebald's careening pseudo-memoir novel, a few short years out from his demise, Austerlitz; we like to think we're seeing more of the artist as he nears the end.  I suspect it's not that we see anything else than normal, nor is the artist's labor any different.  The subject is now just more provocative.  It's more vital, and entirely inclusive.  If only momentarily everyone lives with that fraught set of concerns.  I tell you, as largely indifferent as I've grown to Picasso, there were connections I formed, looking at the Times article, that made me not just reevaluate his labors, they made me reconsider my own.  

 If there is decency of expression, one could say,  and possibility in every response then why refrain any longer?  How shit-biting sad it must be to arrive and then think 

I wasn't always a desperate person with just sheets to fill.

David Berman, a poet and musician whose sentiments I've tacked up here frequently over the years--he's the Silver Jews guy, wrote a poem about Isaac Asimov's death.  There is a lot of sympathy and in it--mostly devoted to a guy whose only public faults were that he dreamed of different worlds and that he was abnormally prolific.  One line in particular resonates:

Perhaps my last words will be random.

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