17 November 2017

The Immortals

William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Vol. I (New York: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 158-159.
Once, in a studio conclave, some of us drew up a declaration that there was no immortality for humanity except that which was gained by man's own genius or heroism. We were still under the influence of Voltaire, Gibbon, Byron, and Shelley, and we could leave no corners or spaces in our minds unsearched and unswept. Our determination to respect no authority that stood in the way of fresh research in art seemed to compel us to try what the result would be in matters metaphysical, denying all that could not be tangibly proved. We agreed that there were different degrees of glory in great men, and that these grades should be denoted by one, two, or three stars. Ordinary children of men fulfilled their work by providing food, clothing, and tools for their fellows; some, who did not engage in the labour of the earth, had allowed their minds to work without the ballast of common-sense, and some of these had done evil, but the few far-seeing ones revealed to us vast visions of beauty. Where these dreams were too profound for our sight to fathom, our new iconoclasm dictated that such were too little substantial for human trust; for of spiritual powers we for the moment felt we knew nothing, and we saw no profit in relying upon a vision, however beautiful it might be. 

Hat tip: Madeleine Emerald Thiele

14 November 2017

Immutable Destiny

Alfred Sensier, Jean-François Millet: Peasant and Painter, tr. Helena de Kay (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1881), p. 111
The new rustic art of [Jean-François] Millet had made the young men think; at once literal and imaginative, it roused in some minds a whole world of political and social problems. Some called him the brother of Pierre Dupont, the singer of peasants, and the eloquent ally of Lachambeaudie, the novelist of the sorrows of the people. "The Sower" cursed the rich, they said, because he flung his grain with anger toward the sky. Every one talked of the artist's work, and tried to make it a weapon. But Millet did not consider himself so important or so revolutionary. No subversive idea troubled his brain. Socialistic doctrines he would not listen to; the little that came to his ears, he said, was not clear. He often said: "My programme is work. 'Thou shalt gain thy bread in the sweat of thy brow' was written centuries ago. Immutable destiny, which none may change! What every one ought to do is to find progress in his profession, to try ever to do better, to be strong and clever in his trade, and be greater than his neighbor in talent and conscientiousness in his work. That for me is the only path. The rest is dream or calculation." 

Jean-François Millet, Le Semeur (1850)

From La vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet  (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881), pp. 156-157:
Le nouvel art rustique de Millet avait fait réfléchir la jeunesse; cette traduction, réelle et pensive tout à la fois, avait suscité dans l'imagination de certaines gens tout un monde de pensées politiques et sociales. Les uns prétendaient que Millet était en peinture le frère de Pierre Dupont, le chantre des paysans, l'éloquent allié de Lachambaudie, le fabuliste des misères du peuple. Le Semeur maudissait, disait-on, la condition du riche, puisqu'il lançait avec colère son grain vers le ciel. Chacun commentait l'œuvre de l'artiste et essayait de s'en faire une arme. Millet ne se croyait ni si important, ni si révolutionnaire.

Devenir un peintre de la Jacquerie, c'était trop compliqué pour lui. Nulle idée subversive ne bouillonnait en lui. Des doctrines sociales, il ne voulait en connaître aucune. Le peu qu'il en avait entendu dire ne lui semblait pas clair. Et il répétait souvent : « Mon programme, c'est le travail, car tout homme est voué à la peine du corps. Tu vivras à la sueur de ton front, est-il écrit depuis des siècles: destinée immuable qui ne changera pas! Ce que tout le monde devrait faire, c'est de chercher le progrès dans sa profession, c'est de s'efforcer à toujours faire mieux, à devenir fort et habile dans son métier et à surpasser son voisin par son talent et sa conscience au travail. C'est pour moi la seule voie. Le reste est rêverie ou calcul. »

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9 November 2017

The Death of Ethical Principles

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 41:
[In Either/Or] I believe Kierkegaard asserts ... [that] the aesthetic [way of life] can be chosen seriously, although the burden of choosing it can be as passion-ridden as that of choosing the ethical [way of life]. I think especially of those young men of my father’s generation who watched their own earlier ethical principles die along with the deaths of their friends in the trenches in the mass murder of Ypres and the Somme; and who returned determined that nothing was ever going to matter to them again and invented the aesthetic triviality of the nineteen-twenties.

Alfred Bastien, Canadian Gunners in the Mud (1917)

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8 November 2017

Seriously or Not at All

John Ruskin, "Ideals of Beauty," Modern Painters, Vol. II (New York: John W. Lovell Company, 1885), p. 191:
Art, properly so called, is no recreation, it cannot be learned at spare moments, nor pursued when we have nothing better to do. It is no handiwork for drawing-room tables; no relief of the ennui of boudoirs; it must be understood and undertaken seriously or not at all. To advance it men's lives must be given, and to receive it their hearts.

2 November 2017

Hank on Potheads

From a clip of Barbet Schroeder's The Charles Bukowski Tapes :
Interviewer: What do you think of drugs versus alcohol?

Charles Bukowski: Ah, my favourite subject. I think a man can keep on drinking for centuries and he'll never die, especially wine and beer. But I've met too many young people, especially when I was working for Open City, just smoking marijuana, within a two year period, who were intelligent at first and after two years of marijuana they just came around going [airhead voice]: "Haaaaaaay! Haaaaaaay! How you doooing?"

I'm going to be one of the first to say that marijuana is very, ultimately, destructive. And then, finally, there'll be government studies to prove that it's totally harmful, much more harmful than it's ever been exposed to have been. Because I've seen it through people, they just end up [airhead voice]: "Haaaaaay...haaaaaaay..." And I don't like that. I like drunkards, man, because drunkards, they come out of it, they're sick and they spring back, they spring back and forth. But even the light drug freaks, they're just [airhead voice]: "Okaaaay. Okaaaay." It's like all mind circulation and all spirit has been cut off....

Alcohol gives you the release of the dream without the deadness of the drugs. You know, you can come back down. You have your hangover to face, that's the tough part. You get over it, you do your job, you come back, you drink again. I'm all for alcohol, I'll tell ya. It's the thing.

30 October 2017

Clinched Nails Stick

C. A. L. Richards, "Books and Reading,"The Protestant Episcopal Review, Vol. 8 (June 1895), pp. 503-526 (at p. 523):
A wise reader, I think, makes much use of a note book as he reads, and if he is a very wise reader it will be a notebook and not a stray scrap of paper, which he will presently lose or destroy. The fact or thought noted today may be of worth to you twenty years to come. Even if your scraps be not lost or destroyed, they may be hopelessly disarranged. An accident may throw into confusion the careful note taking of a year's work on an important theme, and the chaos be too complete to be dealt with, and out of those huddled heaps no creation be possible. But the habit of note taking is invaluable. It compels you to read with your whole mind and think as you read. It fastens things in your note book and on your memory. It gives you permanent hold of what is best in volumes you may never open again. Burke was said to read as if he should never see his book a second time. A late Governor of Ohio, now President of a Western University, noted for the range of his reading and his full command of what he had read, told me that early in life he discovered that to read a book intelligently with immediate possession of its contents required for him a certain amount of time and effort. If he stopped then, the results of his reading gradually oozed away from him. But a very little added time and effort, a little exacter analysis, more thorough review and meditation, made him master of his book or what he valued in it for all time to come. He did not trust its contents to sink into his memory by its own weight. He drove it home and clinched it. And clinched nails stick.
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26 October 2017

Beautiful Tools

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923):
I love the tools made for mechanics. I stop at the windows of hardware stores. If I could only find an excuse to buy many more of them than I have already bought on the mere pretense that I might have use for them! They are so beautiful, so simple and plain and straight to their meaning. There is no “Art” about them, they have not been made beautiful, they are beautiful.
I haven't posted anything this week because I spent all my free time working on my bathroom. (What is the best way to lift a 300lb cast iron tub, you ask? Try using the emergency scissor jack from your car.) If I had to name a beautiful tool this evening it would be the 10 inch Knipex pliers-wrench with ratcheting, smooth parallel jaws (1¾ inch capacity) that won't chew up metal surfaces. An ingenious design, and it's impossible to imagine life without one now. I don't cycle as much as I used to, but I still covet the pricey 5 inch mini version to keep in my backpack.

In Deutschland hergestellt

On the off chance anyone else has an old clawfoot bathtub, I can also recommend the Magic Eraser. I've tried everything from vinegar to denture tablets, but only Mr. Clean was able to remove decades of iron stains and restore it to a gleaming white.

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21 October 2017

The Wise Man Stays at Home

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance," Emerson's Complete Works, Vol. II (London: The Waverley Book Company Ltd., 1898), pp. 79-80:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for ail educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples; and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
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19 October 2017

Original Sin

Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 248:
In our ignorance and complacency, we deride ancient stories about the nature of evil – equate them half-consciously with childish things best put away. This is an exceedingly arrogant position. There is no evidence whatsoever that we understand the nature of evil any better than our forebears, despite our psychology, even though our expanded technological power has made us much more dangerous when we are possessed. Our ancestors were at least constantly concerned with the problem of evil. Acceptance of the harsh Christian dogma of Original Sin, for example (despite its pessimism and apparent inequity) at least meant recognition of evil; meant some comprehension of the tendency towards evil as an intrinsic, heritable aspect of human nature. From the perspective informed by belief in Original Sin, individual actions and motivations must always be carefully scrutinized and considered – even when apparently benevolent – lest the ever-present adversarial tendencies “accidentally” gain the upper hand. The dogma of Original Sin forces every individual to regard himself as the (potential) immediate source of evil – to locate the terrible underworld of mythology and its denizens in intrapsychic space. It is no wonder that this idea has become unpopular: nonetheless, evil exists somewhere. It remains difficult not to see hypocrisy in the souls of those who wish to localize it somewhere else.