Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Something I missed ...

... over at Golden Rule Jones: If the exhibition were a novel. (Here is a link to the whole Guardian article: Lost in Translation.)
What caught my attention here was the mention of Josef Albers. Back in the '70s, when I worked in DC, I used to visit the National Gallery a lot. (I actually worked for a few years as a gallery director, but it was during my time in Washington that I really got to know art - just by looking at a lot of it.) At any rate, on a couple of occasions I happened to see Lewis Mumford there. I thought of introducing myself (I was even more of a nobody then than I am now, of course), but decided not to bother him - unless I saw him a third time, which never happened. But on one occasion I did overhear him discussing some of the paintings - one of which was by Albers. Mumford found it cold, lifelessly abstract. Which should not be taken to mean that he was put off because it was non-representational. I know that because nearby was a painting by Mark Tobey, an example of Tobey's "white writing," every bit as non-representational as the Albers. But Mumford told his companion - an attractive woman, much younger than he - "Tobey is a real artist" and went on to comment on the spiritual implications of the work they were looking at. I remember this especially because Mumford had in fact articulated what I had felt looking at the same paintings. So there was that bit of self-congratulation that comes from learning that a great man thinks the same way you do yourself. But I also think we were both right. People often think my tastes in art are reactionary because I frequently criticize non-representational art. But I love such art - when it's good. But it is in fact very hard to do really well, and very easy to do poorly. Like free verse.

I conclude with a quiz: Since we have linked to Golden Rule Jones, does anyone out there remember Brand Whitlock?


  1. Yes, I remember Brand Whitlock. Has anyone ever read a book by him? I have: "J. Hardin and Son." Talk about bleak. Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie is where people from "J. Hardin and Son" go to brighten their spirits.

  2. I'm afraid if you visit Toledo today you'll get an answer similar to the one I got when I asked after Ring Lardner in his hometown of Niles, MI:

    "Well, it's a high school."

    Except Brand isn't a high school. He's a public housing project.

    Here's a brief bio:

    Novels aside, this guy led one hell of a life.