Thursday, December 19, 2002

On Writing
Jed Perl, The New Republic
There are a great many ways that a writer can approach an artist and each of them is inadequate for one reason or another. An author who aims for a finely detailed view of the artist's life may leave us with only a shadowy sense of the work itself, while the writer who lavishes razor-sharp analytical skills on a particular painting or sculpture can sometimes lose track of that smidgen of matter-of-factness that ties even the loftiest achievement to day-to-day experience. Evaluating visual or documentary evidence is always a complex business. How does an author weigh the firsthand testimony of an artist? What can be extrapolated from the work itself? To what extent should the cultural situation out of which an artist emerges be taken into account, and should this situation be presented as background or as an animating factor in some more immediate sense? And what of the countless man-made objects whose creators remain entirely anonymous or about whom we have only the most fragmentary information? ...

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