I recall an art critique some years ago, wherein a student summarizing another student's abstract painting, said, "Well, it reminds me of a fish underwater." Later in the same critique, a student said of another's work, "It reminds me of one of Matisse's interiors."
Our professor, Warren Rosser, never known for mincing words, hollered in his gruff Welsh accent, "Why does every goddamn painting have to remind you of something else? Can't you just interpret the work within its own context?"
At the time (I was only 26 and relatively new to the creative process), I thought what he demanded was impossibly absurd, that comparison and contrast is human nature, human mind: how we learn, how we situate ourselves and our art in the world of selfs and arts, and how significantly we judge good from bad. I had a lot to learn.
I spent the next 20-plus years kneading Rosser's words, shaping them and reshaping them with and against my studies in art, literature, science and humanity as a whole. I came to the conclusion that Rosser was right. And so was I. Human instinct is to compare and contrast, label and judge, but that instinct is primitive, vestigial thinking from a time when gross generalizations were necessary for flight or flight situations. For most of us, the sabre-tooth is long gone. Thus, we can explore a work of art or literature within its own context to acquire a broader understanding of the possibilities of form, and of self, for when we intentionally unfetter and extricate a work from its near and distant past, the context is you -- reader, viewer, listener, performer. There is no cultural chorus, only a dialog between self and artwork, each informing the other of its shape, size, composition and meaning. Your task and joy is to explore -- and I mean actively explore -- a creation that may initially confront you with stony silence or a deceptively simple facade. Otherwise, how will you ever come to understand and appreciate something or someone that is wholly original?
Issue 8, July 2007
The writings, sounds, and images selected for Issue 8 of Mad Hatters' Review reflect, in one way or others, the original vision of their creators. My taste is ecclectic because I appreciate interesting work in many styles and disciplines, believing that it all informs me of humanity's marvelous breadth and expands my own intellectual breadth and breath. Because I do not expect everyone to have followed my same scholarly pursuits, I've asked writers whose work appears complex to provide statements describing their creative intent, much in the same way that artists provide statements of intent at gallery exhibitions. The rest of the fun is up to you.
I'm grateful to Carol Novack for inviting me on this adventure and to all of the Mad Hatters' editors for their exceptionally diligent work, patience and intellectual discourse during the selection process -- a process that is splendid, by the way, and to my knowledge unique, wherein all editors engage in detailed and contemplative tetes-a-tetes in order to select work that provides the most interesting possibilities.
And to Shirley Harshenin, MHR webmistress, I tip my humbled hat to her wondrous talent, efficiency, and technical prowess.
A final note: I'm still and ever of the belief that intellectual pursuits can be extraordinarily entertaining, make one youthful in a way no cosmetic surgery ever shall, and lend living a richness far beyond material or monetary wealth. Thanks to Mad Hatters' Review, we're all a bit richer, smarter, and younger.
Debra Di Blasi