Miss Rosen :
Book Review #42
A portrait of the artist is always their subject. Their ideas find form in their iconography as identity becomes manifest in the content presented and the mode of representation itself. Artists lead complex inner lives, wrestling with ideas, conflicts, and questions without answers throughout their time on earth. When an artist unites eye and hand in the service of the creation of art, what results is a projection of the inner life at that moment. Art, then, become a slide of the soul, a fragment left behind to indicate who, what, where, when, and how. When we look at a work of art, what we really see is the unseen mind that drew it into existence.
As viewers, we rarely have access to anything but the final product, the piece de resistance, the piece that is accepted, documented, exhibited, and sold as the finished creation, such as it is, for as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” And it is with these works, finished or abandoned, that we consider the world in which we live, how it was created through the artist’s mind and how it translates into our lives.
Yet, when considering the work we do not always know the back story, the countless trial and error attempts that came and went, unless the artist chooses to show his hand, divulging aspects of their creative process, and allowing us to see the bride stripped bare, such as it were. The purpose of this is two-fold: it gives us deeper understanding of ourselves, and it allows the artist to reveal himself as part of a greater process of creation. For all art comes of something else; Inspiration: that came before, sparked the imagination, and set the artist to work.
The best place to study an artist is in his studies of the work. The masterpiece is one in a series of drafts. It is the one that took the strongest hold of the artist and compelled him to see it through. A great place to study an artist is in his notebooks, the private journal of a mind that synthesizes ideas and experiences into new work. “In some ways an artist’s sketchbook is a collage, a self-help book and a story of words and images both chosen an discarded,” writes Ross Bleckner in the introduction to My Life in the New York Times (Allworth Press)., and it is here, in this powerful, small format paperback volume, that we are given insight into an artist best known for his paintings.
Yet, this book is not about painting, it is about ideas, inspiration, about causes that take effect and effects that translate into ideas that become the artwork itself. My Life in the New York Times is a foray into the mind of one artist who opens his mind to us by sharing a collection of clipped bits, of words and images that are consumed and then disposed, like, well, yesterday’s news. But yesterday’s news tells us how we have reached today, just as an artist’s sketchbooks reveal the steps towards the final piece.
Each page of this book is a photograph. Each page has been designed by hand, with collaged texts and images that have been taped in place, surrounded by the plain or dirty white page, notes, drawings, and other sketchbook effluvia. Each page is photographed to feel true to life; each page has a profoundly tactile quality that the photograph makes possible. Whether it is Bleckner’s fingerprints trapped under pieces of scotch tape or the handwritten notes that adorn the page, the photography evinces the feeling that we are perusing the actual pages of Bleckner’s sketchbooks, gaining private access to his heart and mind.
The pages for My Life in the New York Times were chosen for their personal significance and arranged in a way to tell a story on the page, yet the quotes and the images are abstract enough to invite us to interpret their significance, both in relation to Bleckner’s work as well as to our own life, and what we discover here is that which we engage with is that which forms the questions that haunt our lives.