JAMES ABBOT MCNEIL WHISTLER (1834-1903)
Over the past few weeks I've been reading Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty And Being Just. Scarry is a professor of aesthetics at Harvard, and I heard about her first through that magnificent tome of wisdom and ideas, Brain Pickings. Maria Popova cited it as one of her favorite books of the decade while chatting with Krista Tippet during her "On Being" episode, and so I thought, "I have to read that."
Scarry makes a simple and relevant argument: beauty is essential to life.
"It creates, without itself fulfilling, the aspiration for enduring certitude. It comes to us, with no work of our own; then leaves us prepared to undergo a giant labor."
She believes that witnessing something beautiful spurs us forward into a more bountiful life. Which brings us to James Whistler, one of the most under-appreciated yet commonly reproduced American artists of the late 19th century. I don't remember where, the time or place, but Whistler's painting "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket" (seen above) is the first painting that had an impact on me, the first one that was burned in my memory. Maybe it was in a set of encyclopedias my grandmother kept on a shelf in her long hallway, maybe it was somewhere else.
The image of it, as well as a continual desire to find beauty everywhere and in every second, has been following me around in all the years since then.
Her new album, Not Even Happiness, has been on constant rotation here at the STATE studio. Her music is subversive in the most gracious of ways, always reminding us how much she is capable of loving, and what is required of that love. Pairing images of nature alongside imaginings of her inner landscape, speaking perfectly to this time and place. Take a listen.