Burchfield's journal, Hitler's Aesthetics, Hong Kong for Dummies, Washington, D.C.
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July 3, 1948
A.M. writing in Studio. The glory of Thursday has come back; as I look at the sketch I made, I rejoice in the fact that after 33 years, I have been able to capture again, and bring to completion, an idea that I jotted down in pencil in that rhapsodic summer. Then I experienced the emotion, but had not the experience of language to put it down in concrete terms; now I have these, and thanks to God, the emotional experience was given me again. Much of this came from watching that swallow—wonderful little creature!
The above is an excerpt from the journals of Charles Burchfield, an American artist known for his watercolors, particularly of townscapes and nature scenes. A very small portion of his journals appears in Art in America 1945-1970: Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism - by Jed Perl which I am now reading. I’m quite fascinated by these journal entries because they are very much of a time when journaling entailed conversing with no one but yourself. Unlike modern-day blogging (or heck newslettering) which assumes a reading audience and thus takes on a public-facing voice, Burchfield’s journals come off as an artist’s personal record, logging in the mundane day-to-day stuff that goes into art-making, with hints of poetics shining through every now and again.
August 23, 1948
Most of day spent in making studies of grasshopper, & conventionlizations of them, for a projected grasshopper picture.
Starting to fantasize about experimenting with something similar, possibly in this here newsletter, but wondering if folks start imagining me with an itchy Rorschach voice and begin fearing for their lives (assuming everyone here has either read or seen Watchmen, right?).
August 24, 1948
To Zimmerman Rd. to do the grasshopper picture. An ideal day for it—hot, dry, the air full of insect sounds.
Set up my easel first, at the edge of the swampy pasture at the north side of the woods—then ate lunch.
All afternoon on the painting—unpremeditated was the introduction of a yellow & black spider (Miranda) feeding on a grasshopper. I found it to be an ideal way of working—i.e. on one day to work out the conventionalizations & abstract motifs, then the next to work on the spot, so as to be able to give life to the form invented. I worked boldly & with great absorption.
I am now convinced that I will only ever be a real artist when my journal entries start looking like that!
Together with the above, I’m reading another book: Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics - by Frederic Spotts, which I picked up upon spotting at the excellent Kaboom Books here in Houston. It is of course widely known that Hitler was a failed artist, but by that same measure you might as well consider over half the working artists on the planet today to be failed artists as well. In the sense that Hitler was indeed selling his watercolors to get by (like every other artist on social media taking on commissions), but was never regarded highly as an artist, not by the art establishment, galleries, museums, etc. I’m surprised that with a guy like Hitler’s taint on the world, that some people still have the audacity to attribute things like carefree love and feminism and anarchism to artists. That a society run by artists instead of bankers is the magic answer. Not necessarily, as Hitler’s example can attest to. Unfortunately, there are horrible people in every profession (even doctors ffs).
I’m only a third of the way into the book, but reading about how he essentially used all of Germany (and much of Europe) as one demented “art project” is really just off the hook. And I will never get over the fact that the man responsible for waging the biggest war in European history was essentially a mediocre painter with little-to-no military background to speak of. Unless you count his short stint as an infantryman then as a messenger runner during WWI, which I’m not exactly sure is a competent gateway for high military command.
I wonder if these kind of infographic-like guides tend to spring up in every major protest movement. And if that’s the case: book idea!
I mean, I’m not gonna do it, but I’d gladly pay good money for a book collecting protest guides from across the world over the course of history. So I’m just putting the idea out there so someone else can go ahead and do all the hard research/publishing work for us.
The similarity in tactics, by the way, between Hong Kong and Tahrir are uncanny. Down to the use of green laser pointers! Still though, the protests in Hong Kong are visibly more evolved and organized, and I sense will change the face of protest tactics forever. Lasers In The Tear Gas: A Guide To Tactics In Hong Kong is a good overview if you haven’t been keeping up.
I’ll be in Washington, D.C. next month for only two nights, Oct 21-22, to do two things: speak in Sultan Alqassemi’s class at Georgetown University, and then again at his Washington DC Cultural Majlis, a kind of cultural salon he hosts in home - open to the public, but RSVP required. More deets forthcoming, but I’m putting this out there now because whenever I travel East, requests to do things tend to multiply very quickly and time is often very limited. So best to plan ahead!
Aaaand I’m out.
September 14, 2019