Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Post-Warhol we're used to the idea of artists as wealthy business people à la Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Young artists trying to forge a career appear, from their glossy websites, to be operating in the world of commerce. We're used to thinking of works of art in terms of their monetary value. Myself, I think artwork - literary, visual, or whatever - comes from a different place to impulse to make money, so it's interesting to read Gertrude Stein's description of the Paris art scene in the days when Picasso, Matisse et al where penniless unknowns. Speaking of her Saturday night salons, at which paintings by the likes of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse were hanging for visitors to look at, she says:

"...really everybody could come in and as at that time these pictures had no value and there was no social privilege attached to knowing anyone there, only those came who were really interested".

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas is full of insights into the creative process, and about Stein's work. Here she talks about her own writing:

"He [Valloton] asked Gertrude Stein to pose for him. She did the following year. She had come to like posing, the long still hours folowed by a long dark walk intensified the concentration with which she was creating her sentences. The sentences of which Marcel Brion, the french critic, has written, by exactitude, austerity, absence of variety in light and shade, by the refusal of the use of the subconscious Gertrude Stein achieves a symmetry which has a close analogy to the symmetry of the musical fugue of Bach."

It strikes me that by using a proxy to tell her own story, Stein is doing the opposite of what some people accuse her of: namely, puffing herself up. She refers to herself in the third person, and always uses her full name; the reader is fully aware that she is the author of the book, so she seems to me to ironically questioning the objectivity of any autobiography, and also questioning the validity of authorial and artistic identity - highlighting the fact that an author's or artist's name is their 'brand'. At the same time, she is able to give some valuable insights into her own psychology as a writer. In this passage she expresses the mixture of confidence and diffidence that characterises the artistic personality:

"The winter went on. Three Lives was written. Gertrude Stein asked her sister-in-law to come and read it. She did and was deeply moved. This pleased Gertrude Stein immensely, she did not believe that anyone could read anything she wrote and be interested. In those days she never asked anyone what they thought of her work, but were they interested wnough to read it. Now she says if they can bring themselves to read it they will be interested."

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

what fun, eh?

you know:



She was/did use herself
subject and object