23 August, 2008

Sarvas on Roth

Steven Augustine, the bête noire's bête noire, draws my attention to some kind and thoughtful comments on my work, offered by Mark Sarvas, a famous blogger and published novelist, in a piece entitled 'Thinking about Roth' from his fine blog The Elegant Variation:
Thinking about Roth's familiar touches, motifs repeated, things like that, I thought that an instructive comparison might be made to Picasso. Besides a lifelong fascination with sex (with a dose of terrified mortality thrown in near the end), the symbols of Picasso's art were always personal, almost narcissistic: His lovers, his family, his personal iconography—bulls, harlequins, matadors—put a personal stamp on his body of work that bears some resemblance to Roth's own concerns.
A putative artistic kinship with Picasso had never occurred to me, but I think this is a perceptive observation. Sex and death, certainly, are recurrent motifs in my own blogging oeuvre, and, like Picasso, my symbols are always personal: though perhaps 'narcissistic' is a shade too far. (My readers will disagree.)

I was particularly haunted, in this instance, by the (unstated, or half-stated) suggestion that my own development as an artist might have mirrored or echoed that of Picasso. For example, I could easily believe that early Roth posts—say, from March through September 2006, when I dealt frequently with poverty and blindness, often allegorically—will come to be understood as the flowering of my own Blue and Rose Periods. Likewise, the metaphorical bulls and harlequins of Roth's 2007 pieces participate in a collective unconscious inherited (as I now see) from Picasso and the Spanish heritage. And if I have my own Démoiselles, inaugurating an epoch of daring perspectival distortions, it is surely my already-classic 'Unknown Object' trilogy from November 2006.

*

Some sceptics, or as I would prefer to call them cynics, may question the value of comparing creative artists as different as Picasso and myself. They may suggest that such a comparison requires a level of generality so great as to leave lifeless both Picasso and Roth. But I cannot agree with such facile, knee-jerk reactions. As Sarvas points out, quite aptly, Guernica (like my own 'For the Birds') 'is a resolutely personal work'—'something, incidentally, Picasso', like Roth, 'has been criticized for'. Such a similarity cannot be easily brushed off. Perhaps Picasso, as the twentieth-century paragon of the artist (as Einstein was of the scientist) has set the template for all subsequent creative endeavours.

10 comments:

Steven Augustine said...

Well, obviously, it doesn't begin and end with that mention, Conrad, you humble devil. Just Google "Roth" (as your lovely wife often does, I'm sure, you lucky wit) and the sheer quantity of results will astound you.

Conrad H. Roth said...

. . . I'm famous!

Shawn Thuris said...

Indeed you are famous: your name appears exactly fifty percent more often than my own exceedingly well known one. And your credentials and whereabouts were the cause of inquiry and subject of consternation on the Wikipedia "humanities reference desk" forum on July 24 of this year -- such discussions frequently precede the appearance of the writer in question on the front page of TLS, by about four months on average.

But I fear Mr. Augustine may be playing the part of the bien salaud's bien salaud here in tempting you to gather unto you all the googlements springing from the search for "Roth", as I know of two or possibly three other Roths on the internet. Mr. Augustine I believe deserves a small "tut tut" for this to go with his "hear hear".

Finally, a note to all potential comment makers: following the link to Mr. Sarvas's page would be entirely unnecessary, superfluous, redundant and duplicative of effort, as everything needed for informed commentary stands forthright and ready to hand in Conrad's masterful self-summation above.

John Cowan said...

And I don't play the bass guitar.

Greg Afinogenov said...

Personally, Conrad, I find your passages about being caught masturbating by your overprotective Jewish mother to be especially compelling. But oh, it's shande fur de goyim!

Michael said...

I find the comparison inapposite; Picasso was Andalusian.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Shawn: Yes, I saw that. Very amusing it was too!

Greg: I laboured long and hard over those passages, and conducted a great deal of field work to get the mood just right.

Michael: Yes, I have more of a Catalonian mentality.

Strange Doctrines said...

My wife and I went there once. Loved it. On a clear day you could see the Queen Mary!

Strange Doctrines said...

(I am the commenter formerly displayed as "Michael.")

Rob Gunningham said...

Above Paris: The Aerial Survey of Roger Henrard, published by Princeton Architectural Press is a lovely book I hadn't seen before I looked at Mark Sarvas's page.