The amiable Musée Calvet in Avignon resides on Rue de Joseph Vernet, named in honor of the artist’s service to painting during the 18th century. Further Vernet was father and grandfather to two other painters of some repute. The grandson, Horace, was born in 1789, the year the Revolution exploded and his grandfather expired. It is his painting, prominently displayed in the Calvet, that suggests this exercise in creativity, criticism, candor, commitment. Take a moment to study it closely before I provide a little explication de texte and raise questions for your amusement.
The subject of the painting is dead grandpa Joseph. He is shown here lashed to the mast of a small vessel that’s braving a terrible storm. The strong ropes hold him fast but free both his arms and hands so he can 1) hold his sketchpad aloft; 2) manipulate his charcoal or pencil; 3) concentrate on the reality—The Reality—of the storm; 4) know, feel, sense—like Lear on the heath when he wants to feel what wretches feel, or like Gerard Manly Hopkins jumping chest deep into a flooded stream to immediately experience the ‘inscape’ of rushing water, or Camus’s Caligula who screams ‘I’m alive! I’m alive! as he’s being stabbed to death but who wholly feels the experience, or like Keats who knows precisely “Now more than ever seems it rich to die”—the raging power of the storm, even if it kills him; 5) risk the lives of six crew members while he hopes to advance his artistic cause.
Such is the creative and critical commitment to getting Reality precisely right.
So now the question arises: in your creative practice, would you lash yourself to the mast to immerse yourself in Reality? Or Expressionism? Or Fantasy? Or Surrealism? Or—hmmm—a Cubist storm? A Post-Modern mirage? If you don’t paint, but write, or play, or draft, or doodle, or sing, or move, what would you dare? What have you dared and for what end? As Sarah Palin would say, How’d that work out for you?
Please comment. Maybe we can have a good discussion among you devoted readers.
(And while you ponder this, I’ll catch my plane from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. I’ll check in with your in the afternoon–your time.)