Sentient in San Francisco – 12 September 2019

This Date in Art History: Born 12 September 1829 – Anselm Feuerbach, a German painter.

Below – “Head Study of a Girl with Vine Leaves in Her Hair”; “Nanna”; “Fruhlingsbild”; “Romeo and Juliet”; “Orpheus and Eurydice”; “Self Portrait.”

This Date in Literary History: Died 12 September 1977 – Robert Lowell, an American poet and recipient of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize.

“Skunk Hour”
by Robert Lowell

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer is first selectman in our village;
she’s in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season’s ill-
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town….
My mind’s not right.

A car radio bleats,
‘Love, O careless Love….’ I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat…
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here-

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their solves up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air-
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.


This Date in Art History: Born 12 September 1898 – Ben Shahn, a Lithuanian-born American painter and photographer.

Below (paintings) – “The Phoenix”; “Detail No. 2: Labyrinth”; “I Think Continually.”


Below (photographs) – “Resettlement Administration client family, Boone County, Arkansas, 1935”; “Rikers Island Prison-Prisoners Reading News, 1932”; “Deckhand aboard the Queen of Dycusburg, Memphis, Tennessee, 1935.”

 

This Date in American Cultural History: Born September 12 1880 – H. L. Mencken, an American journalist, essayist, satirist, scholar, and cultural critic.

Some quotes from the work of H. L. Mencken:

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”
“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.”
“Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.”
“The plain fact is that education is itself a form of propaganda – a deliberate scheme to outfit the pupil, not with the capacity to weigh ideas, but with a simple appetite for gulping ideas ready-made. The aim is to make ‘good’ citizens, which is to say, docile and uninquisitive citizens.”
“It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.”
“The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”
“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental – men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre.”
“Evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is founded upon hate, as the Christianity of Christ was founded upon love.”
“There are two impossibilities in life: ‘just one drink’ and ‘an honest politician’.”
“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant.”
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”


Contemporary Ukrainian Art – Shandor Alexander

Below – “Bottle and lamp”; “Warm day Ochakov”; “Roses near the sea”; “Flowered in the Carpathians”; “Dining Symphony”; “Damp autumn.”


A Poem for Today

“To Katharine At Fourteen Months”
by Joelle Biele

All morning, you’ve studied the laws
of spoons, the rules of books, the dynamics
of the occasional plate, observed the principles
governing objects in motion and objects
at rest.  To see if it will fall, and if it does,
how far, if it will rage like a lost penny
or ring like a Chinese gong—because
it doesn’t have to—you lean from your chair
and hold your cup over the floor.
It curves in your hand, it weighs in your palm,
it arches like a wave, it is a dipper
full of stars, and you’re the wind timing
the pull of the moon, you’re the water
measuring the distance from which we fall.

Below – A French postcard of child in a high chair (1945-1955)


Contemporary Russian Art – Anna Gordodetskaya

Below – “Morning at the country house, Colombia”; “Mountains 2”; “Face of Cartagena”; “Ancient vases”; “After the rain.”


A Poem for Today

“To the Western World”
by Louis Simpson

A siren sang, and Europe turned away
From the high castle and the shepherd’s crook.
Three caravels went sailing to Cathay
On the strange ocean, and the captains shook
Their banners out across the Mexique Bay.

And in our early days we did the same.
Remembering our fathers in their wreck
We crossed the sea from Palos where they came
And saw, enormous to the little deck,
A shore in silence waiting for a name.

The treasures of Cathay were never found.
In this America, this wilderness
Where the axe echoes with a lonely sound,
The generations labor to possess
And grave by grave we civilize the ground.

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