A Sense of Discontent

I’ve stopped coughing, but I’m still very tired – the aftermath of the Coughing Plague, I think. Nevertheless, today I wanted to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, mostly for a banana split but I do also like those pictures and things they have hanging on the walls. So we went.

I can’t show you any photographs, because this computer doesn’t have a program that can download them. Honestly, I feel as though I’m stuck in the technological dark ages.

After the banana split, which was a thing of beauty that is a joy for at least half an hour, I focused on two exhibits. The first was Scaasi: American Couturier. There were two exhibits related to fashion that I wanted to see this summer. The first was the Isabelle de Borchgrave exhibit I described in earlier blog posts, but it was too early in the summer. I couldn’t make it out to San Francisco by the time the exhibit closed. The second is the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I’m definitely not going to miss. (New York friends, I should be there the first week of August, which is also the last week of the exhibit. New York is so much easier than San Francisco, just an inexpensive bus ride.) Because I missed Isabelle de Borchgrave, it was nice to make the Scaasi exhibit, although not quite the same, not as artistically interesting. But still. (I have photos and will post them as soon as I have a twenty-first century computer and not one that runs on horsepower.)

Did you know that Arnold Scaasi was Arnold Isaacs (read Scaasi backward) when he first came to the United States? The dresses themselves were very interesting. You could see the fashions changing decade by decade, see the different silhouettes and materials. It was a useful education for a writer. I wish Genevieve Valentine had been there; I would have liked to hear her comments.

Then I went into my second exhibit, Artists Abroad: London, Paris, Venice, and Rome 1825-1925. And here I ran into a problem: my own sense of discontent. Because while Scaasi had been fun, here was real art: engravings and watercolors by Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, and their ilk. It was a small exhibit: small works (in terms of size, in terms of their importance) in a small room. But you could see, for example, how Cassatt was experimenting, how she was making these smaller works in preparation for larger ones. Experimenting with techniques. And there were two Whistler engravings that looked like no engravings I have ever seen. He had found a way to capture the sheen of light on water in an engraving, which seems like an impossible thing to do. I looked at them and thought, Whistler, you cool, crazy dude. And there were other artists I had never heard of who nevertheless belonged to the artistic ferment in those cities.

The discontent came from wanting to participate in something like that. An artistic ferment, but also more importantly artistic experimentation. Cassatt and Whistler were so clearly in the process of trying to find out what it meant to be Cassatt and Whistler. I wanted to be in the process of finding out what it meant to be me, artistically. Whether that was part of a ferment or not. (But Cassatt was deeply influenced by her milieu, as I think artists always are. And I do think I have a milieu, which consists of writers who are trying to blend what are often called fantasy and literary fiction. And that is currently in ferment.)

You know what Virginia Woolf said: five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own. I have often longed for the modern equivalent. I want to go deeply into myself, find out what it is I have to say. I don’t know whether my doing so is justified or not. It may turn out that my writing is not important enough to justify that sort of immersion. That introversion and taking of time. But if I don’t do it, I’m not sure that I’ll ever find out. I’d like to find out what I can do, not in the rag-ends of time I seem to have nowadays, when I’m so often writing after midnight, exhausted. But in large swaths of time.

Well, all I can do right now is the work I have in front of me, finish that and then see where I come out. Where, after that’s done, writing fits. But I’m working toward having the necessary space and time. Because, while I don’t yet know what I can do, I think it’s time I found out.

(On the way home, I read Cassatt’s biography on my cellphone. It was nice to see that, even though her family was wealthy, she too had problems she had to overcome. More problems than I have, certainly – being a female artist in the nineteenth century. And I learned something useful: at one point, desperate to support herself, she decided to give up painting and move out West for a job. Luckily, she was given a commission and returned to Paris the next year. Mary Cassatt was going to give up. You know what that means, right? All of us go through the same things. Without exception.)

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1 Response to A Sense of Discontent

  1. Maery Rose says:

    Good to know about Mary Cassatt as I am at that wanting to give up point. My paying job feels like it’s sucking the creativity and life out of me and I don’t have enough of me left to write with.

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