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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3935 - 3938

3935. On the afternoon of the birthday party Harriet’s sister Clara came for a visit and to have tea, and to give her sister her birthday presents in advance, before the other guests arrived. We have spent so much time talking about Emily and her tutor that I think I should remind you about Harriet’s sister, and her peculiar situation.

3936. The sister, Clara was one of those persons who find religion at a certain point in their lives. Having discovered religion, it takes over their mind completely and they begin to try to convert their friends and neighbors to their new found ideas.

3937. You know quite well that I, personally, was suspicious of Clara’s convictions and I harbor the notion that she has become devoted to the church simply to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere of her house. I have already mentioned before that the trips to her Bible study group were just a screen to give her a little freedom from tending for her dying husband. 

3938. You might think that if Clara’s so called religion was just an excuse to get her out of the house, she might be luke-warm about the convictions of others, but in her situation the opposite was the case. She felt it was necessary to convert others, and the weaker her faith was, the stronger was her need to preach to her friends and relations.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3931 - 3934

 3931. So it happened that on the evening of the birthday party, Emily, who was confined to her room because of her crime, was extremely upset and crying. The Tutor tried to comfort her, but she was in a dilemma. What should she have said to comfort her charge, and how do you imagine a person in her position should have handled the situation?

 3932. I am going to say right out that I think Emily was justified in stabbing her brother with her little calligraphy pen, and I say it without compunction. I would have been content if she had punctured his arm twice, even three times!  But not four, to four I would not go. Four creates an image of some sort of crazy mayhem all out of proportion to the situation. 

 3933. On second thought I have to go back and say that one stab is understandable, and two would cross some invisible line we all know about. However, even though I sympathize with the criminal, I would not have been able to bring myself to congratulate her, or praise her action. Just like you, I would confine myself to that kind of very mild reproach couched in sympathetic tones.

3934. Mild reproach, couched in sympathetic tones so familiar to children, coming out of the mouths of their parents, who have long ago forgotten what it means to feel life passionately, and express their feelings forcefully.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3927 - 3930

3927. She would have accepted the apparent accidental damage to her creation, and she would have forgiven it, but she was outraged that her brothers would be laughing about it. It was all a momentary misunderstanding that would have been explained in a minute but in that minute something drastic happened.

3928. Emily picked up her little calligraphy pen with the brass nib, and drove in into the upper arm of her elder brother. It was aggravated assault, because Emily was highly aggravated. The brothers were dumbfounded, and were hardly able to explain that it was all just a prank, a meaningless prank.

3929. Almost immediately after Emily stabbed the older brother, the younger brother produced Emily’s sculpture complete and intact. What a dilemma! If only they had been laughing about her actual sculpture, rather that the fake one, Emily’s violent reaction would have at least been understood, even if she could not be excused.

3930. But because of a simple coincidence of the order of events, Emily appeared to be a young person dangerously out of control, and in need of serious punishment. It was impossible to explain or justify Emily’s behavior to her parents, and although The Tutor tried to justify the stabbing, she gave up the attempt at the first word.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3923 - 3926

3923. But then, take that tree that is so difficult to draw and dig it up and transport it about a mile away, and have a look at it and try to draw it. Drawing a tree at a great distance is similar to drawing a simple cotton swab. Drawing a picture of a cotton swab is just a matter of two parallel lines, and an oval of scribbles so nothing could be simpler. 

3924. However, what if we have a very serious student who wants to truly draw the cotton swab as it appears to the eye under a microscope? Consider the overly conscientious student who wants a true rendering of all of the various strands of cotton as they overlap and hide each other in their infinity. That student must confront the same problems of drawing the tree. There are infinitude of visible details, and it can neither be done, or even contemplated in any seriousness.

3925. All that is neither here nor there, but I point it out to indicate how easily it was for Emily to mistake the fake horse for her real one, when she saw it at a distance all in pieces. Even when she bent down to look at it close up, she still did not realize that it was not her sculpture, but a forgery and an imposter.

3926. She kept looking back and forth from the stand to the shattered clay on the floor and tried to imagine just how such an accident could have occurred, when she heard her brothers laughing about it from behind the cabinet. Suddenly she put a picture together in her mind of what must have happened. She jumped to the conclusion that they had bumped into the stand by accident and tipped it over onto the floor.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3919 - 3922

3919. Emily entered her studio alone and instantly saw her precious sculpture smashed into pieces on the floor next to the stand. It was not actually her sculpture because that was safely hidden away, but it was not possible for her to know from a distance that it was not her work that had been destroyed.

3920. I would like to leave Emily standing in the doorway for a moment, and say a few things about things that are seen from a distance. When you look at a thing from a distance, all the details disappear and only the general simplified form can be discerned.

3921. Consider the case of a tree. A tree is one of the most complicated things any artist has ever seriously attempted to render. If one stands close to any tree, the eye is presented with many millions of various shapes of all size and tints. When an artist attempts of draw a tree, even just a simple branch is so complicated, that the serious student gives up the struggle almost at the first try.

3922. One may manage to be patient for a few minutes and succeed in drawing a few dozen leaves and parts of some branches here and there, but right away one has to resort to a sort of aimless scribbling, which is highly unsatisfactory, and gives no indication of what the tree looks like to the innocent eye.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3915 - 3918

 3915. Those nasty brothers were not done with their pranks however; they proceeded to do something very creative and original. They went to the stables where the blacksmith worked, and from scrap materials and plumbing parts they fabricated a sculpture armature similar to the one Emily used for her sculpture.

 3916. Once they had the armature, they took a few pounds of modeling clay from the shelf in the sculpture studio. Using the clay they quickly mad a simple model of a horse. Their model was very crude, and only resembled Emily’s horse from a distance and was devoid of any articulation. Emily had worked about three hours a day for a month, on her horse, but the brother’s horse was completed in a few minutes.

 3917. Even though the boys’ model had taken only a few minutes, it was completely adequate for the exhibition they planed to use it for. They took it to the sculpture studio when no one was there and took Emily’s work down from her stand and placed their own work in its place.

3918. With Emily’s work hidden, the took their own model and smashed it into pieces on the floor next to the model stand. Then they hid behind a big bookcase was waited for Emily and the Tutor to arrive. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3911 - 3914

 3911. When Emily did not respond, the sculptor instructor answered his question himself. He said, “When monumental sculpture in bronze is being made, the clothing is crafted by simply dipping a coat into plaster and then draping a plaster figure with the plaster coated clothing.

  3912. Once the model is dry, everything is cast into bronze. So the modeling of coats and boots, shirts and gloves, and things like that is the simplest of the sculptor’s problems to solve.  When looked at in this way, the production of the fine details in much sculpture is not so impressive at all.

 3913. The idea of casting actual things into plaster and adding them to works of sculpture was too much for the brothers and they could not continue to pretend to be serious about their interest in their sister’s sculpture. They began to speculate about whether one might cast dogs and cats, parrots and rats into plaster, and use the molds to embellish various works of art.

3914. The fanciful image of some big work in bronze, entirely created from the casts of dead animals all piled up in a heap was not pursued because the Tutor, sensing the cynicism of Emily’s brothers, suggested that they leave so that Emily could get to work on her studies.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3907 - 3910

3907. The instant Emily and the tutor entered the studio, the brothers’ changed the nature of their discussion and began to talk about the sculpture in an attentive and interested way. The wanted to know what kind of horse was represented, and how detailed Emily planned to make her model. One of the boys asked this question, “If the model of a horse is one foot tall, is it possible to represent the eyes clearly when one comes to model the face?” 

3908. This question led to an interesting conversation about what size details can be depicted in various sized statuary. The tutor said that she knew of historic monuments where a figure was created life sized, and the coat of the figure was worked so carefully that you could see the woven threads that made up the garment.

3909. Just then the sculptor instructor entered the studio and overhearing the conversation. Showing off his knowledge, he asked this rhetorical question, “How long do you think, Emily, it would take to model an overcoat in clay, and make it perfect down to the detail of the threads of the coat.”

3910. The question was directed to Emily because the instructor suspected that the two brother’s interest in art was feigned. The question, however, was entirely rhetorical and had no answer. It was a question only intended to produce awe in his listeners.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3903 - 3906

 3903. Modeling clay looks like horse excrement, especially when it is piled up on a table and waiting to be fashioned into a figure. It was this curious coincidence that gave rise to the ridicule that the brothers subjected Emily’s sculpture to. 

 3904. When they had access to Emily’s studio they would stand next to the clay horse and make up little stories and their stories always would end would the words “horse excrement.” I am not going to relate any of these stories to you because they were so foolish, but the curious thing about them was the riotous laughter that the last two words of their little story's would produce in the listener.

 3905. You would think that if you knew exactly the two words that a story is going to end with, it could never be a surprise, or even be found interesting, but the very predictability of the end is what made it so entertaining, especially when the ending words appeared somehow unexpectedly.

3906. Each new story produced greater and greater laughter, until they were acting like young boys act the first time they ever invade the parental liquor cabinet. In this condition of self-induced literary drunkenness, the door opened and Emily and the tutor entered.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3899 - 3902

3899. Emily had two older brothers. She was 13, and her brothers were both 14 and about 10 months apart in age. Perhaps if they had both been fifteen things would have been different. There is a great difference between fifteen, and fourteen. A fourteen year old will do mean things without any guilt that a fifteen year old would recoil from in shame.

3900. When Emily was out of the room she used as a studio, the brothers would sneak in and then proceed to conduct a conversation about Emily’s sculpture. What they said about the work I will not reproduce here but if you are familiar with the kinds of things 14 year-old boys say to entertain each other you can probably guess.

3901. Emily was using a water-based clay to do her works. It was red clay with grog in it. Grog consists of fine particles of already fired clay that had been pounded into grit and mixed with the unfired clay. Grog gives the clay a texture so that it is easier to model, and not so slippery.

3902. The clay with the grog in it is rough and red, and there is another type of water-based clay that is a greenish-brown. A third type of clay is oil based and never dries out, and is used when the piece is to be cast into plaster, but whatever type of clay she was using, all types of clay have one thing in common; they all can look like horse excrement.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3895 - 3898

 3895. My descriptions of Emily’s sculptures are not very accurate however, and if you imagine that her works were elegant pieces of statuary, then I have failed to give you an accurate account of her works. She was but a child, and as much as I would like to have seen into them the image of a future great artist, and as carried away as I was by what I saw in her little studio when I visited the family, the truth is that they were childish things, which made up in charm what they lacked in skill.

 3896. How often it is that the parents of some child artist are carried away by the precociousness of the works of their offspring, and yet, others see only clumsy, childish, awkward efforts, and only manage to murmur faint, insincere praise when asked for their opinion.

 3897. The ability of parents to see the genius in the creations of their children is almost never matched by similar perceptions when it comes to the siblings of said artists. The brothers and sisters are often afflicted with jealousy, which then expresses itself as sly and subtle ridicule.

3898. No amount of positive parental admiration will ever offset the biting sarcastic remarks of a slightly older brother, when it comes to the judgment of the qualities of some pathetic little scrawl of a drawing done by some ten year old. And why is this? Because the judgment of the older brother, although often brutal and lacking in tact, is almost always nearer the truth than the over sweetened gushing praises lavished on a child by indulgent parents.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Birthday Party, parts 3891 - 3894

 3891. She procured a small armature, a quantity of clay, and the necessary tools and began work on her first clay model of a horse. She began her horse as simply as possible so that all the legs were straight, and all the hoofs were planted squarely on the ground. It did not occur to her at first to attempt any pose such an a running horse, or a horse rearing up on its hind legs 

 3892. She had hardly finished her first model when she bumped into the horses’ head and bent the neck a little, and she saw in an instant that it would be more lifelike if the head was twisted to the side.

 3893. Her second model included the neck twisted to the side, but still the rest of the figure was stiff and formal like the first. The third model included the front hoof raised up, and the knee bent.

3894. By the time Emily began her fourth model of a horse she had realized the need for the pose to have some twist to the body. Her modeling became more subtle, and the details more precise. The modeling of each horse gave rise to so many new ideas that by the time she finished each one her mind had already advanced to thinking about the next.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Birthday party, parts 3887 - 3890

 3887. Emily allowed for only one alteration in her production of drawings of horses: the question was only, “Will it be the full figure or the head only.” Also, will if be in profile, a side view, or the dreaded three quarter view in perspective.

 3888. The drawing teacher had to accept these restrictions. Since Emily was always an obedient child, the drawing master was able to put in front of her something like a vase of flowers, and set Emily to doing a drawing of the subject, but he soon discovered that the drawing of the flowers Emily produced was so lacking in conviction or attention that the entire two hours of instruction wasted.

 3889. When Frida, the tutor, suggested that Emily draw the horse from memory after her punishment began, there already existed a firm foundation of drawing experience to build upon. From the first day of her punishment, however Emily exhibited an extremely different attitude to the project. Pencil and paper were now inadequate to her needs, watercolor, always so weak and transparent, was not a strong enough drug to satisfy her.

 3890. One would think that oil paint and canvas would be the medium of choice, but even these difficult materials were rejected out of hand.  Emily knew from the first instant how her passion was to be realized; only sculpture would do, and not sculpture carved in stone, but forms modeled in clay.