19 September 2021

James Salter and the time stamp of art

I have just finished this small book by Jim Salter, one remaining holdout which I had yet to read. It is a compact volume made from three talks which he gave later in his life. There is also a great introduction by writer John Casey. 

The talks are filled with stories, for like many writers, he loved anecdotes, and like any writer too, he was a story teller. But perhaps not like all writers, he really loved talking and telling stories. Though I had already read in his other books many of these delicious anecdotes they were a pleasure to 're-listen' to them again. He has been described as a 'bon-vivant', 'a Francophone', and 'a gourmand' who loved friends around the dinner table with bottles of wine on hand.

But again, all writers are not like this, some are listeners, discreet like church mice, and mostly somewhat invisible. But then, he was both it seems clear to me. 

What I wanted to say about him is that there are many points during this book wherein he speaks about a thing, anything in life that happens to us, risks to disappear if it is not recorded, written down. He says:

"....Everything not written down disappears except for certain lasting moments, certain people, days. The animals die, the house is sold, the children are grown, even the couple themselves have vanished, and yet there is this poem."

Curiously, he refers to his lengthy novel Light Years, to which he is referring, as a poem.

I don't know if he would agree with me that all of life is perhaps a dream, and that it must be recorded, otherwise it will slip back into the inconclusiveness, into the rich and enticing formlessness of a functioning dreamworld which is not an artistic process, though helpful I'm sure.  

All this resonates with me because in essence, as a painter I feel much the same way. A painting does the same thing as stories. Of course, one could say that everything 'conceived and physically constructed' by humankind is included in this, but I only use books and paintings as an example. 


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

For me, a picture needs to be as coherent and clearly communicable as any poem or short story, novel, what-have-you, or it too risks not living. It needs to 'exist'. And I am not excluding abstract paintings, for they too, possess the possibility for cogent, communicable ideas enough to give birth to a work which is alive, or I should say, has lived in this world. 

To go further out on the limb I would say that the problem with both bad writing and bad painting is that they employ cheap methods to attain their goals. In novels and stories, it is often the cliché, (among a number of overly used tools which dooms it).

And the same goes for Painting, for it is the cheap lighting effects, the poor drawing, or lack thereof, among any number of other gimmicks which derail it. How can a picture live if it is has been poorly made?

The problem with all this is that if (when) they fail, then perhaps there is nothing to give them life. One could say that they pass into the netherworld or dreamworld of a failed work of art. 

But if, and when they do succeed it's because a confluence of so many elements of greatness, talent and originality to name but two. When great they endure, and they can live forever.

Could one not say that only Art itself is what gives us an appropriate accounting of reality of history? 

There is a reason that so much bad painting is locked away in vaults of the Louvre and also why dime store novels are freely used to get the chimney fire started.

But, what I really wanted to say is that we  have so little time on this earth in human form that by 'passing our time' in the pursuit of Art is a worthy vocation.

An adult artist, not unlike a child who draws a lot, is hungry, almost obsessionally so, in order to concretise his/her feelings somewhere, and by any means. I think of the cave paintings of Lascaux.

So of course, I use my own painting done a few days ago as an example of how I put my own time stamp upon the day reminding me that I was there. I existed because this painting is proof that I was there out on the dune at dusk facing the Pacific Ocean. 

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