I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.
Andrew Wyeth, American artist
This is the season to luxuriate in solitude in "the loneliness of it." There's almost a guilty pleasure in steering clear of the madding crowd, quietly defying the dictates of this Age of Togetherness.
To enjoy being alone is considered selfish, unnatural, perverse. It violates the unspoken American rule you can see laid down in studio photographs, group portraits, campaign brochures and all other poses: To be certifiably happy, one must be smiling, preferably in the company of other smiling faces just as genuine.
People who need people are the luckiest pee-e-eple in the world!
In this entirely too open society, it is not enough to believe. One must broadcast those beliefs with stentorian certainty.
Your beliefs will never impress others unless they are displayed. And what else are beliefs good for? They need to be shined and polished and rolled out, preferably in a portentous Edward R. Murrow voice: THIS I Believe….
But to be alone with Andrew Wyeth's work, that is a happiness no one presses you to talk about. It is just there, like something waiting beneath. How strange for an artist to be so solitary and yet so universal.
Not to broadcast your beliefs is to be selfish, antisocial, a miser with your thoughts. The more pedestrian the belief, the more welcome it is for others will surely second it. The more outlandish the belief, the even more welcome. So the rest of us can demonstrate how tolerant we are. So long as you Share Your Feelings. It's good for you. All the advice columnists say so.
What's not permitted is to be alone with your thoughts. It is assumed which is the most effective form of being decreed that one cannot be happy alone. It's considered almost a law of physics.
What a solitary joy to see that law violated by the 32 early works of Andrew Wyeth now being shown at the Arkansas Arts Center here in Little Rock, where they'll be through the end of this year. And what an appropriate exhibit it is as the days shorten, the nights grow, and things are reduced to their essentials.
To be alone with Andrew Wyeth's work, that is a happiness no one presses you to talk about. It is just there, like something waiting beneath. How strange for an artist to be so solitary and yet so universal.
Wyeth's is the plain sense of things. His work lacks pizzazz, glitz, buzz. He won't be on the cover of the next celebrity magazine. His paintings may appeal to many of us, but he'll never be fashionable.
The artist is right: Day by day the bone structure of the landscape does become visible as the leaves clear and the cold sets in this time of year. Fall is so much more satisfying than spring, just as endings are more instructive than beginnings.
Something else emerges with the skeletal lay of the land: the feeling of being one's own for a season. Call it self-possession. Things seem clearer now that summer with all its distracting glare is gone. The undeniable isn't as easy to deny when leaves fall and the newly stark limbs stretch heavenward.
Yeats said it: Things reveal themselves passing away.
Some atavistic instinct sets in with the cold. The urge strikes to put on a great big pot of soup, find a cave, build a fire in some sheltered spot . … Hibernation begins to appeal. Some intuition tells us we must gather our resources for the trials to come.
But not all our resources are out there; some wait to be summoned from within, like memories that teach and fortify. This is the season not just to collect but to recollect.
That's where the past comes in. You can see it in Wyeth's weathered barns, his once blue door, the image of a lifeless deer hanging from a tree, waiting to be dressed….
There is an unfashionable, stripped-down certainty in these paintings. Maybe that's why the sophisticates despise the artist. His work is too simple, too evocative, too rooted in some primal past. Magical realism, they called these early works, thereby reducing it to a label, a style. But to classify feelings, rather than only evoke them, is to destroy them.
Magical realism. What does that mean? More real than real, as in a dream? The deer, the tree, the house, they stay in the mind, maybe the soul. It's as though you'd seen the scene before somewhere, sometime. But that couldn't be. Was it in a dream? A dream common to all of us that the artist brings to the surface? Whatever the magic, labeling it kills it. The way analyzing a dream can destroy it.
The critics despise Wyeth as linguists despise grammarians, or maybe literature in general. His works are insufficiently abstract, unforgivably intelligible, and much too popular. As if he had a door to his, and our, unconscious. He speaks to too many of us without saying a word. Can't have that. He reinforces our aloneness.