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01 September 2010

A Fellow Artist as Muse: Inspiration or Imitation?




Currently at The Clark art musuem (one of America's loveliest temples to fine art, located in idyllic Williamstown, Massachusetts), is a baby blockbuster exhibit titled PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS. It is an exploration of the way in which the work of the two major artists intersected, although they were born two generations apart.


The following paragraph is taken from the exhibition's brochure:


Throughout his long and prolific career, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) obsered, absorbed, and competed with the works of other artists, from his student days in Spain to his first encounters with the art world of Paris and into his last years. One of the artists Picasso particularly admired was Edgar Degas (1834-1917). His response varied over time from emulation to confrontation, and parody to homage. By justaposing paintings, sculpture, and works on paper that have never before been exhibited together, PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS explores the younger artist's lifelong fascination with the work and personality of Degas.


Well!


Here's what the New York Times wrote about the exhibit in the Escapes section of the paper on Friday, August 27, (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/27/arts/design/27picasso.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=picasso&st=nyt)
I can only speak for my own experience, but I have seen many museum exhibits devoted to Picasso including the recent ecerything-but-the-kitchen-sink blockbuster at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And in this latest look offered by the Clark in conjunction with the Art Institute and the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, I encountered a Picasso I was surprised never to have seen before, even though I am passionate about Art History.


Perhaps I am showing my ignorance by stating that I had no idea that, as a teen in the mid 1880s, young Pablo Picasso demonstrated a precocious talent for classical draftsmanship and and already keen and probing eye that was able to capture the inner life of his subjects with several deft strokes of a pencil. I will have to find the portrait of his father that he drew as a teen, which is such a brilliant psychological study that I could have stood there all afternoon marveling at it.




It is no surprise that during Picasso's spectacularly long career he experimented with many, many forms, and summoned as many muses (Cubism, for example, was born of his fascination with African art forms). But the Clark exhibit also charts an artist finding his identity -- and doing so in public -- as the works are exhibited. How often are we, the viewer, the audience (or the reader -- I'm getting there), privy to an artist discovering him- or herself? In the show's earliest works that bear a signature, we read "P Ruiz Picasso" and even the handwriting is different from the way the artist will eventually sign "Picassso" to his works.


Both Degas and Picasso were fascinated by the female form -- Degas, most notably for his numerous depictions in several media, of young ballet dancers. But the two artists were also intrigued by prostitutes, bathing or otherwise. They were both self-taught sculptors. Both saw something in the sad little lives of the overworked Parisians who gazed dejectedly at their glasses of absinthe in the cafes of late 19th c. Montmartre.











Yet, when it came to women in the flesh, their personalities could not have been more opposite: Picasso, with his outsize appetite for sex, his numerous wives and mistresses; and Degas, rumored to have been quite celibate -- with the voyeur's fascination for la vie gaie. Exhibited in one room at the Clark is Picasso's postmodern series of prints set in a brothel (simultaneously grotesque and whimsical) that he made toward the end of his life, depicting Degas as just that -- a voyeur, as captivated by the whores and their greedy madam or Celestina, as he is repulsed by them.

And now we come to you.

Writers: Have you ever written a deliberate homage to a fellow author (dead or alive) in any of your books, whether it was including the writer as a character, or using a name they made famous (e.g. Holden, Darcy), or something deliberately intended to tonally evoke your literary inspiration? Something else?


Readers: What are your feelings when you discover homages (as I write this sentence I'm thinking that the Harry Potter books, for example, are chock-full of them) to other authors in a book you are reading?

5 Comments:

Blogger Christine Trent said...

Interesting question! My current work-in-progress pulls in Jane Austen as a very minor character. I've used a very real Austen situation (that of the Prince Regent coercing Jane to dedicate "Emma" to him, much to her great disgust), and made my heroine a part of that situation. The circumstances spoke volumes about the characters of both George and Jane, and was just too good to pass up, in the fictional sense.

I have also used other authors' characterizations of historical figures as my own. ;)

7:44 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Not so much as homage, but as declaration of independence, when I wrote the "erotic language" scene in Almost a Gentleman, I was thinking of every romance novel that ever used the word "Manhood."

10:50 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Christine, whomever could you be referring to? :)

The scene you have in mind sounds quite delicious!

Pam, claiming that territory and marking it as your own with so specific a reference, is certainly inspirational! I think nearly every artist under the sun has at some point taken an established departure point and twisted, spun, played with, and riffed on it until it emerges as wholly their own creation.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

I've deliberately incorporated thefts (?homage) from Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare (though the last hardly counts because so many of his phrases have simply become part of the language). No one has yet called me on it.

4:44 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Leslie! As I've mentioned before, the last scene in "Beneath a Silent Moon" was inspired by the last scene in Sayers' "Busman's Honeymoon" (in mood and tone, not in actual wording). My books are full of homages to my favorite tv shows, particularly "The X-Files." From Charles and Mélanie's first kiss happening in a corridor (Mulder and Scully's big moments almost always happened in hallways) to working in "trust no one" (which is a pretty easy line for spies to say) to Charles's family motto being "Veritas est Alicubi" (which was close as I could get to the "The truth is out there."). And Andrew says to Gisèle something like "you're shaking like a leaf" which is a line Angel says to Buffy. In "Vienna Waltz" at one point Suzanne/Mélanie uses the alias "Countess Irina Derevna" which is a pretty obvious "Alias" homage."

11:30 AM  

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