Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur



Filed under: Books & Short Stories,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 11:47 am

I forgot to tell you why I love him. I forgot to tell you why I’m tempted to read that book I found at the failing used bookstore in Sugarhouse. I forgot to tell you why I handed the tired and grieving owner my last three dollars. I love Somerset Maugham because he taught me how to love Impressionist art.

Art is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Before I read Of Human Bondage, I couldn’t make sense of it. Impressionist art seemed like the sort of thing that artists without talent resorted to. I’m not talking about Abstract art, with its Jackson Pollack squiggles of paint. I’m not talking about Surrealist art, with its Salvador Dali melting watches. I’m not even talking about Cubism art, with its Pablo Picasso double noses. These are also art movements that I had relegated to the home of incompetence, some of which I have learned to love and others I have just learned to tolerate. I’m talking about Impressionist art, where the picture is told in globs of paint on huge canvases. It’s like looking at the world without my glasses. Why would anyone paint that?

Of Human Bondage follows Philip, a failed artist turned medical student, on the journey of his early life. It is Philip’s sojourn in Paris and his burning desire to be an artist that helped me appreciate the artwork of the Impressionists. On my last visit to San Francisco a few years ago, I visited the museums and was lucky enough to see a Monet. I remembered Philip’s pride at showing the artwork of Paris to his friend, Hayward. I imagined him at my side, telling me why this painting is brilliant and why everything else in the museum isn’t worth seeing. The painting became dear to me because of a well-written story.

The important thing was to feel in terms of paint. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915

Now there is a whole classification of art that I can enjoy that I couldn’t enjoy before. Because the artists were referred to so often in that damned and haunting story, their paintings are dear to me. I still can’t appreciate them for the artistic ability. It may be that he is right and only a painter can judge a painting.

[T]he painter’s arrogant claim to be the sole possible judge of painting has anything but its impertinence to recommend it. W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), Of Human Bondage, 1915


1 Comment »

  1. I find the impressionists to be quite spurulous in general, though you can always count on them for a good horse-dragging. I enjoyed “OHB”. I found it to be a cover-to-cover-non-stop-readfest, which is not entirely true, because I did need to get up a few times to spritz my contacts and to attend to some private matters. But I digres. Philip’s journey through Paris — but also through his own past — will delight all who read this marvelous work. Truly, it is worthy of marveling. I also found that the book was quite lorguettish in its approach, yet unslappably piquant. I can’t wait until the author releases the next one!

    Comment by Skip Oberon — 11/30/2005 @ 2:32 pm

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