Death of an Artist

Status report: I’m so tired that I’m having a hard time even keeping up with this blog. Chapter 2 is done, although I still need to add some critical sources. But I need to go to the library tomorrow, and some are coming through interlibrary loans. Once I get those, I’ll be able to add them. I finished Chapter 2 on Sunday. Today, I started writing the introduction. It should only be about twenty pages (double spaced), but to make it more manageable, I’ve divided it into five sections (at least for my own purposes): a section on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the freak shows that were happening all over England around that time, a section that explains my argument, a section on the critical history, an outline of how I will present my argument (basically, what the various chapters say), and finally the implications of my argument and what I’ve left out. By the time I go to sleep, I will have finished the first section on the Great Exhibition and freak shows.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m too tired, as though I can’t do it anymore. And somehow I make myself sit down in front of the computer and keep going. But it’s not easy. When it’s done, I don’t know if I’ll ever want to look at this material again. At least, I know I won’t be able to look at it for a while. And in the meantime, there are so many other things I need to do, even small things like answer emails, that I constantly feel overwhelmed. And more often than now, nowadays, I just can’t do it all. So the emails pile up, and the to-do list grows, and I just can’t do it. It’s all too much.

As I write this, I’m listening to Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” Before she died, I didn’t know much about Winehouse. I casually assumed that she was like all the other pop stars I don’t listen to who are always featured in the tabloids. I’m not sure why I started becoming interested in her after her death. I think I just wanted to know what her music sounded like, why there was such a to-do. And that’s when I realized she wasn’t one of those pop stars, that she was actually something quite special. A genuine artist.

If you haven’t listened to her music, here is the song I’m listening to as I write this, and that I’ve been listening to quite often in the past week:

We live in a world where so much is crude and stupid. Including many of the reactions to her death – that it was predicable and somehow deserved. That there are more important things to mourn. But I think the death of an artist is always something to mourn. Artists are strange people, and many of them aren’t particularly good at life. But they produce works that form our cultural dreams. How poor we would be without Michaelangelo’s David, or Ulysses. The world would be less interesting, less complex. We would have less to think about, less to wonder at. My world would be less beautiful without “Back to Black,” now that I’ve heard it.

It’s always sad when we lose an artist. We’re always justified in mourning, no matter what else is happening in the world. And what we think of the life, how we judge it, ultimately doesn’t matter, because we’re not left with the life. What we’re left with is the art. Cy Twombly died recently, as did Lucien Freud. I didn’t particularly like Twombly’s art. I could appreciate the power of Freud’s. They had a lifetime to develop, to give us their best, and I’m glad of that. It’s sad that Winehouse didn’t.

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4 Responses to Death of an Artist

  1. She was 19-21 in most of these clips…an innocent ‘tough’ looking for a man to be her strength and anchor…before the music Industry got her, before drugs held her. They are illuminating:

    A collection of Amy Winehouse interviews and a few performances. The fan who posted them says “I tried to filter out the questions everyone asks her and bring together the best bits.” This is Part 1. Amy discusses herself-why she makes the music she does. This is Part 2. Amy discusses her album Frank and jazz.

    There Is No Greater Love
    She sings this Billy Holiday Song

  2. I listened to Amy Winehouse when Rehab came out, just enough to appreciate Back to Black as her best song πŸ™‚ My BF, like you, got curious when she died and started listening to her, and fell in love with Back to Black as well. There’s something so very honest about that song.

    I’m so sorry that you feel exhausted. 😦 Your post reminds me of one I saw yesterday, about remembering the joy of writing:

  3. RobertThau says:

    Russell Brand has some personal reflections, on the long time he spent wondering how this girl that he kept meeting at parties had some how made it in this day and age as a jazz singer, before seeing her perform and realizing, belatedly, that she was “a fucking genius”. And on addiction, and what the friends of addicts can and cannot do for them.

  4. Jeff P. says:

    “We live in a world where so much is crude and stupid.” My perspective is it’s people who are crude and stupid. Before the internet, I had a general sense of goodwill and hope for mankind, that we would make it as a species. With the advent of the internet and everyone being able to say whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it, I’ve been disabused of my previous notion. Very sad, the lack of compassion, and the overwhelming self-centeredness and insensitivity in this world.

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