Category Archives: Art

King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era by Edward A. Berlin; Oxford University Press, 1994. Kindle Edition

After reading Joplin’s Ghost, my interest was peaked about the life of Scott Joplin.  Since Tananarive Due used actual historical data to craft her novel, I selected King of Ragtime by historian Edward A. Berlin who she referenced and characterized in Joplin’s Ghost.

Berlin has a great balance of story and technical information that appeal to both the musician and lay reader like myself with no-to-little knowledge of musical technicalities.   Joplin’s embrace and passion for being an artist pitted against the racial struggles of the times and woven through by the threads of his personal relationships in business, family, friends, and love really fascinated me.  Also, I learned that he was considered the King of Ragtime WRITERS.  Due to his passion for scripting his music and his popularity and name recognition, publishers made money from his Rags.  It was only when Joplin reached to grow as an artist with selecting complex African American syncopation to transpose into operatic/classical form was he met my marketing and cultural naysayers.  He was pigeon-holed as determined by White socio-economic power structure.  For that, I grieved because not much has changed in 100 years.

Edward A. Berlin’s Home Page.

I plan to do a quilt to speak to my new found impression of Joplin alongside another quilt inspired by Oliver Lewis, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.  The times in which both men lived and worked overlaps.  I haven’t worked out a design yet,…wanting it only to hint at representational imagery and keeping with my love of mystical abstraction.

The one thing that I kept looking for is some reference of Scott Joplin appearing in Louisville, but Berlin doesn’t reference any.  However, one of Joplin’s brothers, Robert Joplin managed a club here for 2 months before being let go.  I’m going to start with research at the Filson Historical Society when weather permits to see if there is any record of Scott Joplin performing here.  With him being based in St. Louis, I can’t imagine that he never ventured here.  From there, I will delve into UofL’s records.  Something interesting is bound to turn up!

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Filed under African American, Art, Author Links, Biography, culture, economics, history, Kindle, King of Ragtime, musical, musical

Joplin’s Ghost, Tananarive Due, Atria Books, New York, 2005, Kindle

I abandoned The Artist’s Rule…not due to any reason associated with the book but my I’m not ready to focus on any spirit/life work right now.  Instead I found myself reading Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due…my second foray into what is labelled sci-fi/paranormal genre.  My first was an Octavia Butler novel (I can’t recall which one) that I commanded myself to finish.  It was among the first books I dropped for Bookcrossing.

Joplin’s Ghost went beyond what I expected! The story is woven seamlessly and beautifully with  gems of history (and I guess that all good fiction writers do this) which captivated me to want to know so much more about Scott Joplin and kept me reflecting on the trails  and trials that early artists had to create and blaze.  Due made the personal agony very real by pitting Joplin’s thoughts and emotions and ego against the thoughts and emotions and ego of an uprising young woman coming of age in current times.

The book opens with Scott’s voice and the next chapter is the voice of Phoenix, the artist in contemporary times and continues to flip back and forth until their experiences merge intimately and passionately in the middle of the book (which held me wondering where it was all going and not at all predictable) and the end of the book their lives (Scott’s and Phoenix’s) battle to separate.  But what is history if not a mirrored reflection for us to study as we go forward…can you say Sankofa.

Due creates two parallel love stories; one being Scott’s love and passion for his second wife, Freddie; the other, Phoenix’s and Carlos’s,  a young music journalist who is the only one willing to believe Phoenix’s encounters with the ghost of Joplin.  There are a hosts of supporting characters which are interesting but slightly predictable in their roles…but the story development makes up for what lacks in character development and the central characters have strong situations and good personal dialogue.

In addition to exploring musical history, Due also handles the world and violence associated with hip-hop moguls, along with the dynamics of family relationships to create a very natural feel to the tensions and the dramas.  I think it would be a great cross-generational read with teenager not only for the educational resource but the action in the story is fast-paced enough for young people and the situations the characters continually face sparks plenty of opportunities for moral and philosophical and financial discussions.

To find more out about the book:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Joplin’s-Ghost/Tananarive-Due/9780743449038

I will be reading more books from Due.

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Filed under African American, Authors, developing artists, Fiction, history, Joplin's Ghost, Kindle, Multi-racial, musical, musical

Amazing Grace, (cont.)

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:

Les Amis de Beauford Delaney

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Amazing Grace-A Life of Beauford Delaney, by David Leeming

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.

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Filed under African American, Beauford Delaney, Biography, Library book, Painters

The View From the Studio Door, by Ted Orland

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.

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The View From the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in An Uncertain World by Ted Orland, 2nd ed. 2007, Image Continuum Press, U.S.

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.

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Letters To A Young Artist: Straight-up Advice for Making A Life in the Arts by Anna Deavere Smith

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.

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