- "Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist - art itself." - Alexandra Stoddard
"It is time to come out as yourself." - Neil Crofts
My little contribution to a new renaissance in Silicon Valley? Reinstating the Parisien tradition of the salon:
In the early 17th century, the behavior of male aristocrats still reflected the idea that physical strength and military prowess were a man's most important virtues. Around 1610 a young noblewoman, fed up with the prevailing loutishness, did something unprecedented: she abandoned Louis XIII's court and set up her own "alternative space." The Marquise de Rambouillet remodelled a mansion near the Louvre, creating a suite of adjoining salons, or large reception rooms, culminating in her sanctum sanctorum, the so-called chambre bleu. In this room (also known "the sanctuary of the Temple of Athene"), the marquise received her visitors from her bed. - Salon.com's "Brief History of Salons"
Centuries of salon culture ensued. It was a salon hostess who published James Joyce's Ulysses when no one else would. Women were instrumental in arranging that the leading thinkers of the day attended: artists, writers, philosophers, politicians, scientists.
These are busy influential men, and as Salon.com rightly caught on: "Without erotic intrigue, it is unlikely that so many 17th-century men and women of, uh, affairs would have sacrificed their evenings to debates over Racine's prosody." This wasn't simply idle gossip, it was an intimate private place where folks were introduced to people that were outside their normal public social spheres (for instance, politicians don't hobnob with avant-garde painters).
Anything I say here is just tip of iceberg. I'd love to converse more. Face-to-face. If you live in the Bay Area, come over to an open house this weekend at Legends Fine Crafts Gallery, 516 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park from noon to 8 pm Saturday and noon to 6 pm Sunday (coincides with 20th Annual Connoisseur's Marketplace, so tons of art, food but not parking).
Ben Franklin went to Paris salons to raise funds for the American revolution. Later he'd present his scientific ideas such as electricity to these same salons.
The French, certainly, loved Franklin. With his fur hat and his Poor Richard homilies, he was everything they imagined America to be. Or at least he knew how to play the part. He also loved the cosmopolitan whirl of pre-Revolutionary France, and apparently made out like a bandit in the Paris salons. The beautiful Madame Helvétius (to whom Fontenelle, at age 100, was moved to say, "Ah, madame, if I were only eighty again!") took a liking to Franklin and scolded him for not coming to see her. "Madame, I am waiting until the nights become longer," he said. (Take my word for it, in the 18th century that was pretty risqué.)" - "It's Mostly About the Benjamins", Rob Macdougall blog, 12/2/04
John Adams accompanied Franklin to one Parisien salon and was rather appalled. Adams was a bit puritanical.
The Parisian salons were the opposite - provocative, scintillating.
Sort of how Menlo Park used to be. A little controversial even.
Imagine Ken Kesey tripping out (it's research, man) at Menlo Park Veterans Hospital on LSD while he worked the night shift in the psychiatric ward. He spawned not only his own novel but Tom Wolfe's too. The Grateful Dead hanging out in Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park and playing bluegrass and folk at a nearby field in Palo Alto. Marxists meeting at Kepler's and working by day at the national labs. (John Markoff, New York Times technology columnist, writes that the whole personal computer revolution can be traced to within a ten-mile radius with Kepler's as the hub.) The Homebrew Computer Club gathering at a garage in Menlo Park ("From the ranks of this club came the founders of many microcomputer companies, including Bob Marsh, Adam Osborne, and Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.")
Anyway, in my calligraphy class Monday, that's when I first saw this quote by Paul Gaugin, "Art is either plagiarism or revolution." And it's stuck with me. Haunted me. When I'm writing, it feels natural, it's just flowing. Of course it's original. I'm not trying to be provocative, scintillating -- that would be contrived. I'm just expressing what wants to come out.
So a friend is playing devil's advocate. She mentions a local Menlo Park art institution. They could hold salons. Why would any philantropist invest in mine? (First, the Medicis were hardly philantropists, and second they're not mine. It's more of a platforrm, an API, if you will.) (I'm currently reading Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence. Sure, there's a few parallels with Sand Hill Road and the Florentine Medicis.)
So I had to check out this institution for myself. Perhaps we could host salons at their location too (I am on look-out for places to host where people already congregate, gather, stroll), I thought. Well, not as is, it's like a purported arts theater that only plays Disney films. I like Disney films, yet....
I certainly couldn't imagine reading my white peach poem there. The dripping juice, the erotic play in the Trevi Fountain symbolic of the dawn after the dark night of soul. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) until Crayola and the civil rights movement change it to "flesh" became "peach". And there's Bellini's 'Agony of the Garden' where Jesus prays until dawn in the foreground with Judas and the trailing soldiers and that painting's pink dawn glow inspires the Bellini made from white peach puree and prosecco at Harry's Bar, Venice, the haunt of Hemingway and Maugham, and you get idea, yeah, it's a long poem in progress.
I imagine reading there, and I'm tempted to compromise. To fit into what's deemed acceptable, rather than true to me.
This year's tricentennial of Benjamin Franklin's birth, has brought a slew of biographies and articles. Reading one review, it begins: "It is a popular axiom today, that no one with "great ideas" and a passionate commitment to uplift all humanity, can be "politically successful." That's left to the "practical man," the compromiser, the manipulator. No one exposes the falsity of this axiom more completely than Benjamin Franklin..."
Hmmm, you could say the same of the Founding Fathers. They had a passionate commitment to high ideals.
I have a lot of friends pushing me to explain my latest obsession with art. Why? Of course they end this same discussion admitting they were daydreaming about Goya and the Prada Musuem the other day. (Why are you converting your apartment to a boudoir is a second popular query.)
"The idea behind "The Accidental Masterpiece," writes chief art critic for the New York Times Michael Kimmelman, "is that art provides us with clues about how to live our own lives more fully..."
"I hope to approach the art of seeing here in the spirit of an amateur," he writes in his introduction. "I mean amateur in the original sense of the word, as a lover, someone who does something for the love of it, wholeheartedly."
Art gives me a nudge - as if we need a license - to be a lover, my natural self.
A lover doesn't compromise. They are. They are wholly themselves. Wholeheartly.
Whole, total, absolute - intero - in Italian. Whole, entire, all - entero - in Spanish. A lover remains open. A lover coasts in the direction of themselves, gently takes the foot off the brakes.
A lover reads white peach poems with aplomb.
There's an old story about a passer-by who stops to ask three stonemasons: "What are you doing?"
"Doin' me job," replies the first stonemason, gruffly.
"Cuttin' stone," says the second one, irritably.
The third stonemason straightens his back, looks up and says, with passion in his eyes: "I'm building a cathedral."
Update: A philanthropist and friend reminds me: "Well I think it all depends on the intention. I like to think of Vittoria Colonna as a well-intentioned patron/philanthropist versus any of the Medicis."
That sweet poet and nun (alright, technically: "Although she did not take the veil, Vittoria Colonna lived the last years of her life in a convent, dressed like a nun, and was buried as a nun") and beloved of Michelangelo was a bit of a radical in her day. She lived her intention and ideas:
- The idea of gifting freely.
- The idea of art as a free gift.
- The idea of God's grace as a free gift. (And this during a time when Medicis and everyone else were earning and buying their way to Heaven. At this time, money-lending and banking regardless of interest rate is considered an unnatural sin according to the Church: "It's like money copulating.")
So I'm reminded of my post, "An Abundant Fertile New Renaisssance" about gifts and patronage and renaisssance and Vittoria and Michelangelo.
And I'm re-reminded of my intention. How easy they are to compromise. It all depends on intention.
And there in that post I find another answer to Why art?
"Love is like a painter. The works of a good painter so charm men that, in contemplating them, they remain suspended, and sometimes to such an extent that it seems they have been put in an ecstasy and have been taken outside of themselves, and seem to forget themselves." - 15c Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola