Monday, 15 April 2013

But is it Art?




Interesting visitors, supplying me with interesting reading.....and then there's my own prosaic writing.
One of the themes of the interesting reading is about the need for self-reinvention.
The interesting person who gave me the book is heavily involved in Art and Fashion; her view is that when the two come together, as they must, the Person becomes Art.
One view is that what artists have as basic material is Themselves, and so it may be considered entirely justifiable to enhance the Self, to make the Self more exotic, more desirable.
If it is thought more interesting to have been born in Paris, then one says one was born in Paris, and if one's sister remembers it as New York..........well, 'Sisters remember things differently'.

So when is a fib not a fib, but an art form?

I don't like giving too much of myself away. I managed a bit for Molly on her blog, and I have a good many journals, some bits of which I may use in various ways. I love a good story, I am not averse to telling a good story, and sometimes I spice things up in the cause of a good story.
It could be a family trait.

I could tell you now, for instance, disclose for the very first time that my uncle always claimed to have Spanish ancestry, having been washed ashore in a crate of Seville oranges, just like Cheburaska. I have not made capital out if this piece of exotica, but I realise it affected me throughout my childhood, never knowing for sure whether I had Spanish ancestry too, and thinking that perhaps the little Spanish Infanta in those melancholy portraits was really my great, great, many times great grandmother. It added a certain magic to my early years.

The same uncle also had a rather more detrimental affect on my infancy. Somehow he acquired a number of cast-iron plates from a zoo, giving names and details of the animals. He attached a plate reading, Beaver, native of North America to the hutch of my pet rabbit and managed to convince me (I was a gullible five year old), that my rabbit was really a North American Beaver, and I was the only child in the village to have one as a pet.
So I went to school and told the others.
Artistry on his part?

I keep my own observations in my Moleskin journals. I am delighted by the tiny details of everyday life, by the sight this morning of a robin beating the hell out of a sultana below the bird-table........but when I read that  detail again more analytically  I could think, 'Actually, it was just pecking at it so that it could swallow it'.
But I don't change anything. I prefer my original version.

I can make people laugh.
Am I an art form?




23 comments:

Jee said...

My husband's great-grandfather 're-invented' himself for a while and comes up on census between 1861 and 1881 as Lafontaine instead of Thomas and an artist instead of a plumber! The trait carried on into the next two generations, but has been knocked back in husband by the addition of down to earth farming and blacksmithing genes from his mother's Gloucestershire forbears. We've never managed to sort out the truth from the invention in the matter of the artist. I'm sure husband's original desire to become an actor is part of this though.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: that's a great story, and Lafontaine the artist has a certain ring as opposed to Thomas the plumber. It would make for another level of interest in that 'Who Do You Think You Are?' television programme.

Zhoen said...

This is why history is such a wobbly mess. Never know when someone is being utterly factual, or when they are telling a tale, spinning a yarn.

This is why I'm only a mediocre story teller, no good as an actor, and can't finish a novel. The desire to be literally true and scrupulously honest leave me only with evocative words and pseudonyms to play with. It's really not as interesting as a spicy story with turns and hyperbole.

Elephant's Child said...

And the robin was beating the hell out of the sultana. And it was doing so to allow it to eat. Both are true, and perhaps your description allows those of us who were not there to see it better.
Oh yes, art or artistry WAS in the description. Your uncle telling you your rabbit was a beaver? Not so much. Con artistry, but no beauty.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: so true that truth is a relative issue. You might find the book I mention as outrageously entertaining as I do.....and the friend involved in art finds it inspirational.

Elephant's Child: I like the point that there are layers of truth - and endless shades within the layers.

pohanginapete said...

Interesting to see the Chatwin biography tucked away there in the photograph. Chatwin apparently embellished his stories, sometimes to the extent that they resembled fiction, but some who knew him well suggested he was incapable of making something up from scratch. He's often accused of presenting fiction of fact, but his work might be better described using that contentious phrase "Based on a true story". Consequently, the rapport between Chatwin and Werner Herzog, who argues strongly against the distinction between "fact" and "fiction", seems unsurprising.

Although I love Chatwin's writing, I can't bring myself to "embellish" the way he did. I'm not sure why that characteristic of his writing doesn't bother me — perhaps because I'm aware of it and can read his prose with that in mind? But Annie Dillard, who opened Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with a made-up story presented as fact, bothers me a great deal (although I find her writing style exceedingly frustrating in other respects too).

I guess I lean towards Zhoen's approach. However, describing the robin as "beating the hell out of a sultana" evokes the energy of the bird better than "pecking at it", and because imagery and the feel of being there are so important for evocative writing, I think "beating the hell out of a sultana" might actually be the more accurate description.

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment.
I thought you might spot Bruce Chatwin under there.
There are so many degrees of honesty/enhancement/embellishment/ dishonesty possible in all writing. It clarified things for me, reading the Chatwin biography at the same time as Diana Vreeland's, with the former probably using more than a little exaggeration to enhance his 'experiences', and the latter telling blatant lies in the cause of self-enhancement.
But I'm sure we all need to present ourselves and our adventures in the best possible light. The theory of my recent visitor is that almost anything is permissible in the name of creativity as long as it does no harm to anyone else. Unless you're writing a text-book, presumably.

Isabelle said...

I've just read a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, who evidently embellished too. And that irritates me a bit - I like to know what's true. And yet it's silly because he writes stuff that he couldn't possibly remember in that much detail; I knew that. And he writes so wonderfully.

Yes, you are definitely an art form!

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: thank you for your comment. The more I think about truth the harder it seems to become. Two people can apparently share an experience but have completely different reactions to it...and both will be true. Certainly there are concrete facts, but there can be countless reactions to them. The recent funeral might be a case in point!

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Leslee said...

Wonderful. I love a good yarn well embellished. My grandfather was known for spicing up his stories at each telling until it was nearly unrecognizable from the original. Not, alas, a trait I inherited. I'll have to look at the book you're reading - I've been caught up in real-life drama of local events and need to start reading about some other world again, fiction or embellished memoir.

Leslee said...

Oops, not memoir in this case but biography I see.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: try the book that Pohanginapete spotted in the photo, Nicholas Shakespeare's biography of Bruce Chatwin. I find it fascinating.

Leslee said...

Thanks, RR. I'll look into it. :-)

Tom said...

I recall talking to two friends of ours, the ones from whom we acquired Molly. "She" began to tell us a story, but then "He" said, "Can I tell this one? I do it better." Of course there were going to be details, the truth of which might be stretched, or even dispensed with. But his storytelling was an artform. I suspect that you also are an artist.

Zhoen said...

RR,
That anonymous comment is spam. FYI. Feel free to delete this comment as well.

Relatively Retiring said...

Tom: thank you for your comment. I'm interested in story-telling as an 'art form' as well as in story-writing, not to say plain old exaggeration! I used to work in sign language, which can make the stories even more dramatic.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: thank you for the warning. I should have wiped it at once, but was mildly entertained.

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Beth said...

I think every life well lived is an artform, and every life is a combination of facts and fictions, whether the embellishments and omissions are by ourselves or others..."beating the hell out of the sultana" is good writing! and it made me laugh. Why is it that I haven't actually connected tot he fact that you have a blog which I should have been reading all along? You see: already an omission on my part, and an addition on yours. I will be back to read the archive.

Relatively Retiring said...

Beth,thank you for your comment. It's lovely to think of life as an art form. On the other issue - I think we were sidetracked!

Jenny Woolf said...

It is more interesting to reinvent yourself, I think. Most people do, whether they realise it or not. At least, that's my opinion!