Posted in book review

Renoir Forever – Book Review

I remember the first time I ssaw Renoir’s painting, “Girls at the Piano,” hung on a restaurant wall when I was a first-grader in elementary school. I loved the vibrant warmth of the colors and the softness of the girls’ expressions. Since then, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) has become one of my favorite painters. Given that preference, my reading of this book about the master was long overdue. Still, I am pleased to learn that Renoir was what I had imagined him to be – a creator of art whose eyes are set on the stars and foot grounded on earth.

Renoir was a master of the French Impressionism troika led by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, pioneering a new painting style as the epoch needed a new cultural ethos for the upcoming new century. Although the masters of French Impressionism were on the same musical note, their timbres were various. While Monet and Pissarro were idiosyncratic and liberal in techniques and subject figures of their artistic creations, Renoir was a conservative in keeping a tradition of Paul Rubens in his celebration of feminine beauty surrounded by the realism of nature and life.

A pursuer of the beauty that was both real and ideal existing in the physical world, not the spheres of the heavens, Renoir used the ideal to perfect the real, adapting traditional techniques to his visions of the worlds conjured in his mind’s eye. Renoir’s fascination with sensuous beauty in the expression of vivid but soft hues of vibrant colors and rounded, smooth figures of models in his paintings show his unintentional application of Aristotelian aesthetic theory: beauty inherent in itself and beauty by its use. Renoir’s paintings are replete with the beautiful colors, the warmth of the ambiance, pleasantness of the moment, and equilibrium of the backgrounds, all the mastery of using the ordinary with a profound sense to elevate it to art, giving art its true meaning. That might be a reason why German composer Richard Wagner, the creator of “Nibelungen’s Ring,” chose Renoir among other famous painters of the time to produce his portraiture. Or perhaps it was why Americans first found Renoir’s paintings so appealing that the goring sales in America brought Renoir fame and wealth.

After reading this elegant biography of Renoir, I liked him even more because he was an artist who had an artistic vein of genius and a practical sense of responsibility. He was a devoted father who even took care of his illegitimate daughter from his first girlfriend before marrying his model wife Aline Chariot, from whom he kept it a secret for life. Renoir might have had preconceptions about specific beliefs and people, but who would not have them secretly hidden in their mind’s closet? I believe that art serves its purpose when it gives the beholder a delightful sensation, not a dangerous illusion of distorted reality drawn from an artist’s disillusioned mind. Now I have a replica of Renoir’s “Two Girls at the Piano” from Amazon posted on my bedroom wall. It still has the first impression of the painting that has stayed in my heart with delightful nostalgia, enveloping me in the longing for the bidding the time’s return, which only Renoir could do the magic.

Posted in book review

Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a portrait of a man who hated being alone yet found freedom when alone. Austere yet bohemian, religious yet autonomous, he was a paradox himself like the faces of Janus. It was no other than the painter Vincent Van Gogh himself in his well-known portrait looking more in disappointment with the world than in madness against it.

As the late eminent Australian biographer of Ben Jonson Ian Donaldson once put, good biography is anything but a bland, chronological summation of a man’s life, and I am not intent on reciting the dates of from Gogh’s birth to death and in-betweens. Instead, I am all mind in positing what I think he was, other than the man with a bandaged self-mutilated ear because our sensory perception often betrays the truthfulness of what we see when stimulated to the external sensation. Indeed, Gogh was a disturbed man whose sensitivity found no elbow room in the world with which he so endeavored to have a long-lasting content relationship. It is not to say that Gogh was an archetypal self-imposed exiled artist who voluntarily distanced himself from ordinary life scenes. Hardly so. As shown in his letter to his beloved little brother Theo, who helped his misunderstood forlorn artist brother as ever, Gogh tried to be as good-humored and cheerful as he wanted. Still, it was the world that seemed to betray him with blows that bludgeoned his unalloyed wishes and noble aspirations.

Gogh’s paintings reflect his love of realism and reject artificial romanticism without the ideal romantic ambiance in vogue with the time. He was interested in all that existed as they were because discovering beauty in the coarseness of reality was his objective in achieving creative and experiential values. In this regard, Gogh was in the same artistic vein as Francoise Millet, whose paintings Gogh admired because Millet believed that treating the commonplace with the feeling of the sublime was what gave art its true power. The only difference between the masters of art was how to portray it with individual flairs of colors, techniques, and perspectives based on their tastes and judgments. Gogh’s ‘Potato Eaters” might not have that romantic dignity surrounding the hardscrabble peasants. Still, they were unforgettably expressive in the nuanced struggles and strife they had to bear and live with. Perhaps the uneasy cohabitation of the independent spirit and the loving heart distinguished Gogh from his famous peers who had the practical sense to reconcile their creative souls to social needs.

Moreover, Gogh lost a sense of direction when he realized that a man of the cloth wasn’t his cloth. The existential frustrations from the confliction of the will then added to his already innate fragile sensitivity, a hereditary mental trait running in his maternal family. Nevertheless, Gogh continuously endeavored to fend it off and conquer it, even when the citizens of Arles, where he dreamed of building a haven for his kindred spirits, united to expel him from the city he once cherished. However, one good-hearted postman continued to give him a touch of kindness till he voluntarily admitted himself into a mental asylum for the peace of his mind and others’.

To me, Gogh tried to live up to his conviction of good, fulfilled life with exquisite sensibilities, and unalloyed humanity too great for the realities of the world he was born into. His life was life imitating art, and art was not imitating but expressing life as he saw. Yet, be it ever the play of the fate, the more he tried to be good-humored, the more estranged he became because he was an extraordinary artist constantly breaking away from confinement prejudicial to his ever sensitive and creative spirit. Upon reading this elegantly narrated life of Vincent Van Gogh, I realized the truth of the genius only took some time for its brilliance to shine, no matter how long it would take. Who would have thought Vincent Van Gogh, who once sold only one of his works out of hundreds, would be looking at his admirers in the constellation of brilliant painters in heaven? For those who are creators of arts in all genres, famous or hidden, amateur or professional, the story of Vincent Van Gogh will be a consolation to the heart and hope to the spirit that never knows the end.



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Posted in book review

‘A Pale View of Hills’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

A Pale View of HillsA Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being biliterate and bicultural gives a writer a magical third eye to look into the universality of truth of humanity, the commonality of the standard of sentiments and judgment, under a veneer of anthropological ramifications of tribalism. It’s something of a textual witchcraft of the writer to see through the minds of one culture and the other and to conjure up One Whole Mind in the peculiar alchemy of literature. However, it’s a tricky craft that requires consummate narrative skills without infelicity of awkward expressions. That is why A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, an English writer born in and moved from Nagasaki, Japan at the age of five, reigns supreme as a master storyteller in a class of his own writing that holds the curiosity of the reader throughout this mysteriously haunting and enduring story of a woman living in the blurry boundary of the past and the present.

Told by a first protagonist narrator named Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in an English countryside alone, it is a continual fugue of recollections, ironies, visions, and imaginations translated into an elliptical and atmospheric elegy of a woman with the feeling of being adrift on a life sea, trying to come to terms with a surrendering of the past that binds her to the memories of the calamities and absurdities all by herself in a land that shares no common history of her own. In fact, Etsuko’s narrative becomes her own story house, her own Mathom House, a museum of mental paraphernalia filled with the flotsam washed up by the past. All the apparatus therein is the detritus of her convoluted residues of all the memories of Japan, devastated by the calamities of World War II that has become part of her. The result of her story is a spiritual effect of exorcising a knocking spirit in the house that wanted to possess her body and mind altogether locked up in the feelings of guilt, regret, disappointment, and frustration.

Drawing on a wealth of imaginations based upon his own cultural backgrounds, Ishiguro creates a polyphonic work that elegantly interweaves multiple strands of historical, spiritual, and cultural contexts into a wholly solipsistic experience with his cracking narrative skills worth the reading. The best of all, Ishiguro writes with an intention to tell a story of an individual with whom the reader can associate or is familiar in daily life. His characters are felt real, and the words he employs are fluid and elliptical. Which is to say that his world of literature is quite existential but also imaginative. Just as Charlotte Bronte pronounced her identity as a”writer” not as a “woman writer” on her authorship of Jane Eyre, Ishiguro is an English writer whose subjects are universal and common to all as regards the principle of sentiments and reason. Nothing is alienating but everything is encompassing, which is why this book is appealing to the reader.

Posted in Miscellany

Ditto to ‘On Writing’, by Stephen King

Camille_Pissarro_-_Flowering_Plum_Tree,_Eragny
Flowering Plum Tree by Camille Pissarro –

I have been writing profusely and religiously almost on a daily basis since I created the blog a month ago. I love the process of writing my thoughts and feelings publicly in hope of communicating with the people who can share them and appreciate my writing. Although I don’t have a huge fan base, nor do many people leave comments on my posts, I am not dispirited because even David Hume, the author of Human Understanding received a total lack of recognition upon publication, nor did Athony Trollope’s The Macdermots of Bally Cloran gain any readership. Nary a one bit. What a comfort.

While reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I have been getting many invaluable tips on how to write a story, what to write, and what to possess to write. King’s advice is down to earth, straightforward, honest, and friendly. Also, he is very humble to share his own craftsmanship in reference to his own personal experience which I am greatly appreciative of. Before I read the book, I felt a great distance from the contemporary American writers and their works because they seemed to belong to another world where I could not find myself comfortable with and connected to. However, King with his book On Writing has kindly and warmly invited me to the world of modern American literature and his personal/professional world in a very American way.

His writing style is precise, perspicuous, scintillating, and personal. There are no belle lettres, no plum words, no grandiloquence, no priggishness, and no platitudes therein. Just a straight story-telling as truthfully as possible. It’s both intellectual and entertaining. Besides, the facts that (1) he went to a state university; (2) he’s not from an affluent or a typical middle class family; (3) his writer wife, who also went to the same university as he did, worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts’ to support their family; and that (4) he plays the rhythm guitar in an amateur rock band consisting of his fellow writers have drawn me closer to appreciate his world of literature, his brilliant creations.

Furthermore, King seems to have read my mind in regards to my arrested development of writing stories I want the world to read. To write good, I have to read a lot consistently. Also, setting up a writing routine on a daily basis is highly recommendable. He suggests any aspiring writer write at least 500 words per day. So here I am writing this long-forgotten online journal. And the most important thing to keep in mind is that I should not lower my level to expose my writing to any external feedback by publicizing it in expectation of receiving praise or even the smallest comment, unless my writing is complete and reader-friendly after satisfactory re-draft of the original. Besides,  I will not canvass for readership because I don’t want my blog to be tainted by internet marketers of dubious origins and their ilks. In fact, the satisfaction results from writing a story that is honest to myself, that is easy to write about, and that is vivid in telling a story abstracted in my brain. Thus, I have decided to publish my blog post upon thoroughly circumspect review thereof. And I will keep this journal diligently and write a short story per week.

I will let go of myself in the world of armature writing and see how far I will get to. And if this is not my thing to pursue, then I will toss it to find another avenue in my life. But for now, I will stick to this writing plan.

*Having done this entry, I have realized 699 words were written! There I go! I have already written a short story of mine!

P.S. Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” How rightly so.

The rare equanimity of this Sunday evening (also in celebration of denouement of the senseless Daylight Savings Time in the States) allured me to trace back my bygone days, and hence this entry of my interior monologue I wrote on Tuesday, December 8th, 2015, several days after starting my blog on wordpress.com. I have always liked to write since I could read and write, no matter how amateurish it may be.

Although I can’t imagine myself earning the bare necessities by means of writing, an act of writing emboldens my otherwise timid self under the aegis of anonymity. Well, I have my name Stephanie Suh manifested as the author of the writings on my blog, but other attributes of mine are protected by stealth, and it will remain so in fear of losing a magical sense of writing as a ghost writer. (Or sometimes, I feel like Artemis, a divine huntress who vehemently protected herself from the leers and jeering of mortals in terms of her fierce guarding of noble independence. ) After all, writing is an act of discovery of a self, ego qua meaningfulness, a search for sense of purpose in life. It’s also a sanctuary, an elbow room of a restive, lost soul on a life sea. It’s also a cultivation of  plants and flowers and trees in your Secret Mind Garden.