Andrew Wyeth on Painting His Father's Death, the Beginning of Purpose

Andrew Wyeth is one of my favorite painters. I leave a Wyeth book open on one of my tables in my study so that I can peruse it occasionally, seeking understanding behind his voluble yet silent expressions. In an interview, he comments on the first painting he created after his father's death, the creative act a spark that lit a passionate purpose, resulting in a lifetime dedicated to his art:  

The first tempera I did after that [his father's death] is called Winter 1946. It's of a boy running, almost tumbling down a hill across a strong winter light, with his hand flung wide and a black shadow racing behind him, and bits of snow, and my feeling of being disconnected from everything. It was me at a loss - that hand drifting in the air was my free soul, groping. Over on the other side of that hill was where my father was killed, and I was sick I'd never painted him. The hill finally became a portrait of him. I spent the whole winter on the painting -it was just the one way I could free this horrible feeling that was in me- and yet there was a great excitement. For the first time in my life, I was painting with a real reason to do it. - The Art of Andrew Wyeth


Tergiversation, Stertorous, Patina, Extirpate

Semi-weekly, I post new-to-me words (and their definitions) discovered during my literary rambles (you can read more about how I easily capture these and why I started this series here). Following each definition, I provide the word in context of the sentence I read.

  • Tergiversation: the act of abandoning a party for a cause | "The Impressionsists lived through a monarchy, an empire, two republics, and for a very short time, a Commune. These political tergiversations however were trivial compared with the basic chages in society which they disguised but did not control." | From Impressionism, The Painters and The Paintings by Bernard Denvir (a beautiful, extremely large coffee table book I picked up at an estate sale for $4). 
  • Stertorous: of breathing having a heavy snoring sound | "But along with the physical race they ran was another contest / in the heart of the girl, who wanted to win and not to win, / who could have passed him several times, could have left him / behind, / his stertorous gasping loud in his dry and desperate throat." | The Metamorphoses of Ovid, David R. Slavitt translation | While finishing up Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, I read a reference that led me to the poet Ovid and The Metamorphoses, particularly, the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes
  • Patina: a fine coating of oxide on the surface of a metal | I've stumbled across this word so many times in my reading, in One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), to Robert Fagles's translation of The Iliad, to Thomas Gunn's poetry and finally, this morning, I read it in William Gass's book of essays, A Temple of Texts: "The Homeric epics, based on tradition, acquire a patina of contemporary lore and custom." But Marquez's use of the word is the most elegant, using it to describe the adornment of the gypsy Melquiades, "He wore a large black hat that looked like a raven with widespread wings, and a velvet vest across which the patina of the centuries had skated." 
  • Extirpate: destroy completely as if down to the roots | From William Gass's book of essays, A Temple of Texts:  "Heresy needs to be punished and heretics extirpated. Between different, even warring religions, there are many silent secret connections." Also, Flaubert used the word in one of his letters, touching on the subject of suffering: "Nothing will extirpate suffering, nothing will eliminate it. Our purpose is not to dry it up, but to create outlets for it. If the sense of man's imperfection, of th meaninglessness of life, were to perish -as would follow from their premise- we would be more stupid than birds, who at least perch on trees."

Inspiration and Obsession in Life and Literature

Joyce Carol Oates brilliantly opines about our obsession with meaning through a reflection of various artists, writers, and photographers in their pursuit of purpose through inspiration. Though I hate to take Joyce's conclusion out of context, it is solid enough to stand on its own: 

Without the stillness, thoughtfulness, and depths of art, and without the ceaseless moral rigors of art, we would have no shared culture—no collective memory. As if memory were destroyed in the human brain, our identities corrode, and we “were” no one—we become merely a shifting succession of impressions attached to no fixed source. As it is, in contemporary societies, where so much concentration is focused upon social media, insatiable in its fleeting interests, the “stillness and thoughtfulness” of a more permanent art feels threatened. As human beings we crave “meaning”—which only art can provide; but the social media provide no meaning, only this succession of fleeting impressions whose underlying principle may simply be to urge us to consume products.

Last night, while reading George Wallis Field's biography of the German writer Herman Hesse, I stumbled across a similar sentiment in Field's critique of my favorite Hesse book Narcissus and Goldmund

As the years pass Goldmund's adventures suggest suggest two related themes: the awareness of transience, especially in the relationship of love and death, and secondly, his awakening to the power of art to stamp eternity on the ephemeral phenomena of the senses [italics mine].