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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


multiflora berries

Much talk going around concerning the eclipse of the full moon. I think it was yesterday. We had overcast sky and I don't know if it was partial eclipse or full eclipse. I've seen a few of both full and partial, so by now it's not an emergency to be certain to see one. I'm getting like old man Tom Pruitt was. In my first autumn in the mountains we had a one-inch wet snow that stuck to barbed wire fence, every leaf when they were in full color. It looked like candy land, or, much as I hate to say it, like a Thomas Kincaid painting. He's another of those artists like Leroy Neiman who makes me wonder why they're so enormously popular. All I can say is, as in life, so in art. There is something for everyone. I may be more in line to appreciate a Robert Mangold canvas, and that's my thing. He's not as widely popular as Kincaid and Neiman, but abstract art never is popular in a big way. It's only popular among a few.

Back to the snow on the trees. It was so beautiful I had to walk up the road to see Tom, tell him to come outside and look at it. I was still in city mind then believing that anything I appreciated I needed to share with somebody, which turns boring really fast. Same as I don't like it when somebody gives me a book I'm not going to read and tells me it's great, I have to read it. That's a book that will never get read. A while of living in the mountains, I gradually learned that each of us has our own aesthetic sense, which is always individual. Reviewers like for us to believe that there are levels in taste from bad to good. And there are, considering working class people have a kind of aesthetic sense different from middle-class and both of them different from ruling class. Of course, what appeals to the ruling class is considered high art, and that which appeals to the middle-class is ho-hum, and what appeals to the working class is not even a consideration where art is concerned.

I walked up to Tom's house thinking more about getting Tom to see this display of what I interpreted beauty than just enjoy it by myself, though it felt like I was enjoying it to the fullest possible. At the door, I said to Tom, "Come out and look at the snow in the trees." Tom said, as if telling me he'd just put some wood in the fire, "I seen better." No big deal. I knew Tom well enough then to know he wasn't playing one-upmanship. It meant he really had seen better. He told me of the night a fog settled on the mountain in the night and the temperature dropped below freezing when all the leaves were in color. He said everything was covered in ice, and when the sun came up, it was the most beautiful thing he ever seen. That moment was the beginning for me of learning the aesthetic sense of mountain people. I hadn't noticed any before. I've heard preachers talk about how beautiful a flower is, and I sit questioning in my mind, Then why does your wife have to plant her flowers inside a tire to keep you from running over them with the riding mower?

According to the urban market, flowers and pretty trees have only minor aesthetic appeal, old-fashioned, no longer relevant. They're not made by the human mind; therefore, can't be art. I began to see the the mountain aesthetic is not about man-made objects, but about what's God-made, like mountains, sunrises and sunsets, beautiful scenery. One of the favorite things for a husband and wife to do to be alone together by themselves, take a drive on the Parkway a beautiful time of year, a beautiful day. Just get on the Parkway and ride, enjoy the beautiful scenery, then turn around and ride the Parkway back. Paintings on the walls are bought at Walmart or Roses or yard sales, prints of nicely painted landscapes. Because there is little appreciation for the man-made aesthetic, the mountain people seem like visually illiterate rubes. But they're not. Fact is, I can't help but feel like their aesthetic is the highest, not Calvin Tompkins' aesthetic that believes art comes only from the human mind. Mountain people art is made by God. It's living and continually changing.

The mountain expression of appreciation might go something like, "Aint them perty flares!" Art critic Calvin Tompkins says of a work by Frank Stella in the 1980s, "Here undulating, violently colorful aluminum forms were cantilevered three or four deep, so that the whole construction seemed to have a seething inner movement." He's considered a man of superior taste, and there is a great deal to be said for it. Then again, a great deal can be said for a 'perty flare.' One is living, the other, the one of the mind, is dead, except the colors and shapes attempt to make it seem living. That's what we largely mean by art, something made by the human mind for the human mind's consumption with seeming life in it.

One of the first things I noticed when I came to live among the "visually illiterate," coming from a place equally illiterate visually where the people had a higher opinion of themselves because they had more money, and for that reason only---what I found was the mountain people had a sharper eye than mine by quite a lot. Riding down the road with Bill, Don and Van Pruitt, Don said, "Yonder's a groundhog." The others saw the groundhog the moment they looked. I had to search the landscape for a groundhog and never found it.

The art form in the mountains is making music. Music is a living thing, like God's creation, that changes all the time. No two mountain fiddlers sound alike. Each has his own sound. Mountain people who love the music will pick a young fiddler they believe has potential and follow him at fiddlers conventions and dances down through the years to watch him develop. They hear nuances, details, and listen with much auditory literacy. I've learned to hear a mountain fiddle fairly well, but I hear nothing even near what the old timers hear. In their world, I've been the rube with aesthetic illiteracy continuing to think real art is made by humans.


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