‘The Writings of a Savage’ by Paul Gauguin

The Writings of a Savage by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was a man with a moon and sixpence. He was an artist in an endless pursuit of the rising sun at the dawn of a day with a flaming glory in dazzling magnificence. He was an intellectual with a wealth of knowledge drawn from a wide range of reading and classical Jesuit education. Gauguin was a man of irony with contrasting colors reflected on the soul’s spectrums, from the passionate red to the sanguine blue, hopeful green, and melancholic purple, which is why he left Vincent Van Gogh at Arles alone in neverending loneliness. He craved recognition in a grand salon, yet he longed for independence on an island beneath an ancient sun. So, naturally, I wanted to know about Gauguin from his own writings, not from another in the form of a biography. Hence the Writings of a Savage by Paul Gauguin.

The book is an attractive compendium of mostly letters to his select few friends and occasionally his wife and of essays and articles about arts and religion, demonstrating Gauguin’s erudition and introspection. While reading the book, I could not help but think that if he had been a professional journalist or an art critic, his artistic talent would have basked in the glorious sun at dawn rather than a struggling painter always on the verge of starvation. But most of all, what I wanted to know was if Gauguin had cut Gogh’s ear as I heard the rumor. Before reading this book, I had a priori thought Gauguin was a man of temper because his image was incompatible with the Dutch painter’s delicate, sophisticated, and sensitive appearance and temperament. But while my prejudice was not entirely faulty, Gauguin proved not guilty as he talked about it before his impending death away from civilization. Besides, my reading of Gauguin’s writings convinced me that he was not culpable for the injury, even if some like to contrive the circumstantial evidence to make the French pariah artist imbued with jealousy and violence against the suffering Dutch genius. Gauguin might have been passionate, but the passion is directed toward his artistic creation of the worlds he views in his mind and the snobbishness of critics and bureaucrats curating the works of painters who know nothing about the arts.

Imagination, innovation, and independence are the jewels of Gauguin’s prime colors that create his artistic Elysium. Gauguin was liberal in social stance, especially against clericalism, but royal in the artistic philosophy that how to draw doesn’t mean an exact copy of the figure because that’s not the purpose and creation of art for art’s sake. As the title indicates, Gauguin was a noble savage who, as a disciple of Rousseau, returned to a primordial state of humanity to escape from the over-intellectualized inertia of civilization that depreciated and ignored his works of art. I still can’t say the book converted me to the cult of his paintings, which differ from Renoir, Monet, and Pissaro. But the book is a medium of looking through the labyrinth Gauguin has built leading to his secret garden, wondrously vibrant and dazzlingly radiant.



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Teresa of Avila – book review

Teresa of Avila: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Her epithet is deservedly illustrious, equal to her protean capacities for being multifarious: saint, mystic, and artist’s muse who was a curious kind of practical mystic with vision to match – that she would talk and hear God’s words from within and share them with the crowd in practice of charity, faith, and hope but never without heart. Protestant Elizabeth I of Great Britain might have envisioned the image of a Catholic nun of Spain a night before her Tilbury address that she had a woman’s body but had the bravery of a king. She is also the Doctor of the Church. She is Saint Teresa of Avila, the headstrong founder of the Carmelite Discalced and the woman of Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.


My first encounter with this remarkable woman was not religious but academic; while researching women’s monasticism in the high medieval age during my college. Teresa saw many women who were too poor to pay dowry and didn’t want conjugal life found convents as shelters from social conventions without certain religious convictions. Consequently, convents became gossipy sonority houses populated with lackluster and jealous nuns backstabbing one another. The sad atmosphere of the convents used as a mere social institution propelled Teresa to establish the Carmelite Discalced – the Convent of Saint Joseph – with physical labor and disciplined monastic rules not without tenderness attended to individual nuns from all walks of life. She abolished land ownership and rent collections of and by nuns and instituted self-sufficiency of working without shoe but sandals, hence the name “Discalced.” The reformation within the Church was seismic but was a necessary medicinal receipt for the ailing monastic community.

What is most brilliant about Teresa was to create the idea of “The Interior Castle,” a philosophy that the creator of the Universe dwells inside the castle of our souls. That God is from within us, rather than the beyond betokens the idea of personal God with whom we can communicate and thus become a literal mirror image of him for what’s best in ourselves. In fact, this revolutionary philosophy is also linked to Giordano Bruno’s “The Memory Palace,” from which the knowledge needs to be unlocked to bestow upon us the power and joy of the knowledge from within. Further, it is related to the idea of the Nine Muses, whose inspirations are invoked from our minds, not from the Olympus or oracles. All of the mentioned above shares one origin in the cognitive technique employed in Christian meditation developed from the essential reading and contemplating the Bible. But Teresa’s Interior Castle is a beautiful poetic license to enrich power that is never esoterically prideful but blissfully joyful. Where Bruno’s Memory Palace and the Artist’s Nine Muses are not all-inclusive, Teresa’s Interior Castle is universal with tender charity and faith even if it is not necessarily Christian God.

Teresa of Avila was one brave and adventurous woman who was a prototype of feminist in the sense that she voiced out her mind to the patriarchal church authority in danger of being suspicious of heresy or witchcraft even in Catholic Spain, known for the Spanish Inquisition. But she was not a vociferous activist for abolishing the Church or would-be founder of an offshoot of the Church. Teresa was religious of the supreme kind. However, she never abandoned her femininity latticed with passion for helping a young priest in his spiritual crisis in war with physical temptation, tenderness for attending those in need of her consolation, and beauty that was both beautiful externally and internally. She shows us that a strong woman doesn’t need to shout out invective expletives or clamor for the reward for her damages in the name of womanhood when it is really for her sworn revenge. Aside from sectarian religious affiliations, Teresa of Avila deserves her reputation as a star in the Milky Way of the Great.



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Democratizing Delicacies

The delicacy of life that sprinkles flavors to our otherwise mundane routine of everyday life is not a prerogative of the rich. American Catholic saint Dorothy Day once gave a diamond ring donated by a wealthy woman to a poor demented old lady and riposted to a chiding onlooker thus: “Do you suppose that God created diamonds only for the rich?” In this light of democratizing luxuries, Chef Marie-Antoine Careme championed the world of haute cuisine available to all walks of life and shared his knowledge and experience of Haute culinary arts for the use and enjoyment of the public.

Born into a poverty-stricken peasant family in 1784, Crame was abandoned at ten by his father, who told him to make use of his cleverness for his future. Before long, Careme found an apprenticeship to a famous patisserie. That was the beginning of his long, epoch-making legacy of master patisserie. With an innate intelligence and passion for culinary art, he opened his patisserie within a couple of years. His ingenuity for culinary art and a happy chance led him to a top diplomat’s chef to cook diplomatic banquets, for which he became the most sought-after chef in Paris. The success catapulted him to opening a famous patisserie at 19 on the rue de la Paix, baking the wedding cake for Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria. If Napoleon conjures up an image of a scrumptiously layered piece of Napoleon, Careme is smiling in a constellation of artists in heaven. Careme’s popularity endowed him with a celebrity figure in post-revolution, industrial age Europe where the luminary la dolce vita aristocrats commandeered was beginning to shine on those on the low rungs of social ladders. Careme might have been an ambitious entrepreneur to mark his name all over Europe with the crowning glory of lucrative success, but no one else but he tried to share the taste with the crowd indiscriminating class distinctions in his time.

Careme’s success story has a familiar rags-to-riches repertoire with a combination of chance and apposite time surrounding his rise to success interacting with his talents. But why not the taste of the fame when his triumph of will over strife inspires achievable hopes and approachable aspirations? Careme personifies overcoming the mantra of existentialism that experience precedes essence. The fact that his own indigent family abandoned Careme didn’t dispirit his connatural intelligence nor did it plunge him into a Slough of Despondency. Or that didn’t really matter to Careme with his eyes, nose, and hands tuned for the world of delicacy that used to be exclusive for the rich and whose heart made it accessible to all. Indeed, the man was not a saint, nor do I intend to canonize him. But at least his actions and legacy deserve appreciation and admiration adorned with flowers and bonbons.