A little over mid-way through this book I stopped reading it, not wanting to carry the burden of sadness caused my imaging the details of what it must have been like for Delaney struggling with the sexuality, the poverty, the self survival tactics, the living conditions, poor healthcare, etc. I kinda felt like the character May, in the Secret Life of Bees, who grieved the pain of others. With just a few chapters left to read, I picked it back up this past week (way overdue from the library) and finished it. His story expanded my heart and it was somewhat painful…grieving him but also his life is such an iconic symbol for the struggle of being human today. Should I be thankful that the struggle continues or burdened that we have not surpassed the injustices that plagued Delaney so many decades ago?
But he had his art..a compelling passion for him and we all should accept the blessing of finding something as compelling in our own lives as he had. Many of his paintings were stolen and still yet to be found, but he was prolific and painted as if creating was his only requirement for subsistence.
It was only after learning that 30 years after his death, a proper tombstone was placed on his gravesite in Paris, France, that I found the strength to complete this biography. Biographies are so rare for African American artists still and there is only hope in the future that scholarship develops and flourishes enough to interject more of our lives and art onto the world’s view.
Here is a blog dedicated to preserving his memory:
Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, hardcover, 221 pages.
I started reading this last night. I checked it out from the public library after stumbling over it while looking for another book. To my knowing there are just so few biographies of African/American Artists. The author has also written a biography of James Baldwin and at the time of publication was a Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Conneticut.
The book opens with the author sitting with two elderly nieces in the Delaney home in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of them, Imogene, is playing Amazing Grace on the piano as they sing along as if conjuring the spirit of Mr. Delaney. Amazing Grace was his favorite song.
Having befriended James Baldwin, the author was introduced to Beauford Delaney, whom Baldwin referred to as his “spiritual father”. Leeming recognizes that his personal contact with Delaney was limited but having meet him, the time spent impacted him greatly, along with the personal stories that Baldwin and others relayed which kept him alive after he had passed on.
I didn’t get very far before dozing off to sleep, but having discovered that Amazing Grace was his favorite song and that he faced serious mental health issues, and he life ended while in an aslyum in Paris, I’m wondering what his art meant to him and how he worked.
Read Chapter 1 online.
This is a book about the process of how art gets made. For me the main benefit I received is what I perceive to also be the main intent of the book and that is to encourage artists to first and foremost have an indepth conversation with one self about how we create. Just about every page I found myself talking to myself…out loud! Occassionally I would say something I wanted to hold on to and think, “I need to write this down” for further exploration. Its a small book intimate book but it took me a few weeks to really complete it due to reading a page, talking to myself, writing, then falling asleep for the night process. I even started going to bed a little earlier to accommodate the energy reading it would create.
Orland seems to offer this exploration of one’s process as a 2 part cycle…first, engages the artist as individual; second, engages the artist as part of a community…with other artists, audience, and then just as a community member in the largest implication of just being citizens, family members, etc.
Its the 2nd half of the process that found me not as talkative. Even though I’m a member of a fantastic fiber/textile organization, and have held membership in other groups…its been difficult to find that sense of trust, friendship, artistic communion with other artists. For one, I can’t get past cliques and group politics and its hard to ignore the “isms” that sometime seem to surface no matter how innocent or unintended they may be. I do long for the connection with visual artists that I had/hold with poets. My strongest sense of community for my textile work comes from online friends that I come to know mostly through blogs. Off line living, I have 2 persons I can commune with over my art. When I’m at the Mellwood Studio I surprise myself by becoming this overtly (for me) “chipper” person. Maybe it signals that my expectations are high and there is some sense of safety since I’m in an “art community”. I expect that they will readily understand where I’m coming from.
For the most part Orland generates more questioning at a deeper level. One of the resolutions I’ll cling to however is Orland’s following statement: For artists the more relevant question is not whether art can be defined, but whether it should be. This statement strengthens my snarkiness toward the arguments over craft vs. art or serious artists vs. hobby or non-serious artists. For me, I leave this to those who like this topic for academic excercises…but personally the argument has yet to offer me anything useful and so I tend to roll my eyes whenever I come across it and then entertain myself with made-up stories about the lives of the people who love to engage it. To paraphrase Ray Charles, lets just do what we do, let the art do what it do! As Orland also states, “the prophecy is in the artwork itself.”
I know this book will become dog-earred, food-stained, and well-loved as I return to it in upcoming years.
This is my current bedside reading. Its full of all the philosophical ponderings on artists and how they reconcile with the processes of art making, how they define art justaposed against the so-called “art world”, and on and on. I’ve been highlighting passages because this is one I’m going to keep unlike the book he co-authored called Art & Fear which was okay but just didn’t speak to me personal.
I just completed the first chapter yesterday…it is a slow read for me because I can’t get past a page or two without becoming engaged in internal dialogue with the ideas presented….and if you know me, than you know this is what I want to experience with a book. I’m digging that Orland recognizes the multipliticies that exist in human experiences, thus art-making also. He isn’t presenting, so far, some “this is how you do it” approach but seems to be writing to air out thoughts and engage readers open-endedly.
I’ll share some quotes in upcoming posts. Peace.
Usually I feel guilt for even wanting to not finish a book. Once I crack the book open and begin reading, its a commitment, a serious commitment. But this is one of the few books I was happy to walk away from. Smith has a series of letters to some young (as in age) unidentified naive but bright young artist advising them on the risks and skills required to make it in the business. It was clear from the first chapter I was not the intended audience and after a few chapters I wasn’t being challenged, intrigued, to stay with the book to the end. It was happily and quickly returned to the library without any guilt.