Late Night with Walter Benjamin

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Back in my Study Sanctuary

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Staying up late at night is not my habit, but last night I slept poorly, and so was tired all day today. By the time I made the two-hour drive home, I collapsed onto my bed late this afternoon and slumbered deeply for a few hours. An evening exercise walk only managed to stimulate me beyond hope, so here I am, after midnight, wired, and continuing my delicious reading of Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller.” After reading only three pages of it in the gallery this morning, I opened my journal and scribbled out a plethora of pages of ideas, and now I am continuing that this night. Hence, one of my favorite quotes above from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Writing affects me that way, but sometimes I go for weeks without that thrill from writing. Lately I have been quite dry, and wondered when the winds of inspiration would blow again, when would the muse whisper again. Thankfully, this morning’s stroll around downtown Palestine, Texas, along with the reading from Walter Benjamin, brought stirring breezes back to my soul.

What I find stirring in this essay is the way in which Benjamin describes what newspapers in the Germany of his day (1936) did to the general public–the same as what the media in general does to people in our society today–deluges them in data, facts, trivia, with no interpretive weaving. People no longer listen to stories; they swallow facts, events, statistics. No one weaves stories; people merely report the news, changing the subject by the minute. There is no longer any sustained narrative.

I am still absorbing the contents of this engaging essay, but right now, I am stirred deeply by this statement that storytelling “does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.”

This is what has me spinning tonight. As an artist, I constantly struggle against becoming a mere illustrator. I often think that illustration does no more than convince the viewer that the artist is talented. That is not enough for me. Like Van Gogh used to lament, I wish to make art that moves people, touches people, heals people. I want people to be drawn in by what they see. I want them to enter into my pictures (my stories) with their own imagination, their own history, their own feelings, and re-emerge more fulfilled. Yes, I want to convey the “fact” of my subject matter, but above that, I want to put flesh on those bones; I want viewers to see more than the bare facts, the bare skeletal structure of the painting.

I don’t know when I will get to the end of this essay. The more I read from it, the more I end up scribbling in my journal. So many fascinating ideas from this fertile mind of Walter Benjamin. Such fascinating late-night company.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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2 Responses to “Late Night with Walter Benjamin”

  1. Dian Darr Says:

    No one would ever think of you as just an illustrator! Your art always reaches into the soul. You are a storyteller whether you are at the DQ or in your study. Just look at the comments about your latest painting – you brought back memories to so many- memories of a simple life- a relative’s farm – and of course, tractors and studebakers! We can always see more than the bare facts of your subjects! It is a delightful experience.

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Dian, thank you for writing that. I’m deeply touched, knowing the farm house painting connected with viewers. I know it meant a great deal to me and the patron. But I’m glad it found a way into other hearts as well. I don’t know how to paint nostalgia; I just always hope the feelings come through somehow.

      Like

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