This is for the NYRB reading challenge arranged by Mrs. B at The Literary Stew.
The novel is a short and very intriguing story set within the world of artists and art-making. It can be read in one seating, and I recommend that you must. It’s very insightful. I found a lot of quotable quotes on the nature of art-making and purpose of artists.
Summary: Nicolas Poussin, a young aspiring novice artist, went to visit a rather well-known artist, Porbus. Whilst there, Porbus’ master arrives and young Poussin witnesses the master, Frenhofer’s lively discourse about art and art-making. There was much ado about the life and soul of a work of art as the master lectures. The two younger artists soon find out that Frenhofer has been for 10 years in the process of creating a work of art that he does not want to expose until perfected. In his desire to see the artwork, Poussin offered his mistress, Gillete, to Frenhofer as a model in order to complete the work and behold it. Gillete reluctantly consents. When the work of art is done, Poussin and Porbus came to see it – but they did not see the “beauty” that Frenhofer talked about. They only see colors upon colors. Porbus finds out the next day that Frenhofer has died after burning all of his artworks.
You may know your syntax thoroughly and make no blunders in your grammar, but it takes that and something more to make a great poet!
Master Frenhofer’s discourse on Porbus’ masterpiece reminded me the on-going battle in the world of art and art criticism about *drum roll* the nature of beauty. It’s a very tricky business, that. If art is the expression of the beautiful, then what is beauty? Frenhofer answers this throwing a blow to the purists and formalists and saying that the technicalities in art-making are not enough to convey beauty. I agree with him very much.
The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it. You are not a servile copyist, but a poet!
Another quotable quote about artists. This is very true. While our human creativity tries to take on Divine Creativity, it does not always follow that we should copy what God had created in nature. In the time of Aristotle, this is was their perception of art and poetry – Mimetics, I think it was called. Art really does come from reality – for if it does not then maybe it’s not made by a real person. However, people have different perceptions of reality and therefore different articulations of it. I really love this line from the book. It speaks to the abstract artists and it speaks to the artists especially in our generations. Which brings me to my next point…
Rating: A classic is a good piece of literature in its own rights. Moreover, a classic can withstand the test of time and can break the borders of class, race, etc. The Unknown Masterpiece is one of those classics. First published in 1831, the book not only addresses artists, but all of humanity who are capable of creation. It does not only address people from that century. Its message echoes on to inspire even Picasso. Like I said, it speaks to the abstract artists, the minimalists, the post-modernists, and the surrealists whose artworks seem misunderstood. It’s a very short and good read. I highly recommend it not only to artists but to everyone who enjoys art.