A question of style

I do like her city scapes. Click for source.

The vaginal stylings of Georgia O’Keeffe have always left me cold. Even a late-breaking fondness for cow skulls and a trip to Santa Fe have not worn away at my indifference. I am similarly bored by Mondrian’s linear jazzblah. Sometimes things resonate; sometimes not.

And yet! Once in a while, unfair kneejerk aesthetic judgments keep one from appreciating other facets of an artist. I was really excited to encounter the following in this interview with Bob Balaban:

Georgia O’Keeffe was taught something—I don’t know why I’m launching into this—she said some instructor of hers told her this, and she used to tell it to her students: “Your life is your art as well as the thing you call your art.” If you’re a painter, the way you come home and arrange the objects on your shelves, that’s part of your life and part of your art. I think of that when I think of Wes. He is every inch the thing that Georgia O’Keeffe said. It’s in the movie; it’s in his personal life. You can’t just suddenly create yourself as this person who is the director. There’s just one you, and the more you can realize that and draw from that, I think it’s what we’re all trying to do.

Ah! This line of thinking is so up my alley, the idea of one’s work and one’s environment and one’s aesthetic all being knit together, inseparable, different facets of the same thing (the artist). I know some writers who would regard this as a giant meh, but indifference to one’s surroundings and appearance are choices too, suggesting perhaps minimalist or unadorned or possibly abstract or purely cerebral prose. (I recall someone paraphrasing William Gass on a parallel subject, something about a chair being a chair – but clearly, I am hungry to know whether the chair is ladder-back, a Barcalounger, Eames, whatever.)

At a recent writing group, we discussed how the diction of a first-person teen narrator occasionally elevated into possibly problematic territory. Something about it tripped me up, though I am usually a tireless advocate for elevated diction, whether a story warrants it or not. During the course of the conversation, someone generously tried to make the case that one story of mine used elevated diction for dramatic purposes, but that’s not usually the case. I just love convoluted language (Deadwood!).

Anyhoo. That section of the Balaban interview was obviously about Moonrise Kingdom, and I’ve been a Wes Anderson fan from Bottle Rocket on, though the latter displayed only hints of the kind of visual language that would emerge fully-formed in Rushmore – the stuff that now people ding as airless self-parody, overly-mannered, etc., etc. Moonrise Kingdom is not my favorite Wes Anderson movie, but it’s not my least favorite, and just as I tend to avoid the work of artists whose work I am indifferent to, I tend to cut slack to those chasing an impulse or vision that resonates with me. To each his own.

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2 responses to “A question of style

  1. the dictionary project

    I love the quote about life and art, art and life. I totally agree with this. In the past few years, I came to that realization for myself and it feels really liberating. And recently, I took an oracular writing class with Annie Guthrie who said: I want you to get rid of the idea that there is a such thing as writing and not writing. It is an illusion that the only time we are writing is when we are sitting at a desk typing or putting words on paper. I love this so much. Yes, writing requires discipline of sitting one’s butt in a chair. But it also requires living a rich life, being exposed to art and language and new experiences, enlivening all the time.

  2. I completely agree. There’s also the fact that while you’re busy living a rich life, being exposed to new experiences, etc., that vexing narrative issues have a way of resolving themselves. Sometimes the solutions we grind out by putting in time in the chair turn out to just be wheel-spinning, and if we just give up control and let our subconscious minds work, the outcomes are better. Writing has become the only part of my life where I’m not super type-A.

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