The volume includes an introduction by Rebecca Zorach and two final, synoptic essays, as well as contributions from some of the most prominent thinkers on Renaissance art including Stephen Campbell, Michael Cole, Frederika Jakobs, Claire Farago, and Matt Kavaler.
Contributors: Matthias Bruhn, Vera Dünkel, Jonathan Crary, Christopher Crouch, Peter Dallow, James Elkins, Henrik Enquist, W.J.T. Mitchell, Richard K. Sherwin, Susan Shifrin, Jon Simons, Barbara Maria Stafford, William Washabaugh
In What Painting Is, James Elkins communicates the experience of painting beyond the traditional vocabulary of art history. Alchemy provides a magical language to explore what it is a painter really does in her or his studio - the smells, the mess, the struggle to control the uncontrollable, the special knowledge only painters hold of how colours will mix, and how they will look.
Written from the perspective of a painter-turned-art historian, What Painting Is is like nothing you have ever read about art.
It was a night when, even in that solitude, everything seemed mysteriously and troublously alive. The wind cried as with a living voice, and the croaks of herons answered from the sands, The light of the moon went and came as to a rhythmic respiration; and when it hashed, the bats were seen hitting with thin z-like cry high up over the waterside, and when it was dimmed the owl moaned from the ivied walls. At intervals, from the distant lagoons, came the faint ‘quack, quack’ of flocks of ducks at feed. The night was still, but enchanted; subdued, yet quivering with sinister life. Over and above all was the heavy breath of the ocean, crawling nearer and nearer, eager yet fearful, with deep tremors, to the electric wand of that heavenly light.
Presently, from inland, came another sound—the quick tramp of a horse’s feet coming along the narrow road which wound up to, and past, the abbey ruins. As it grew louder, it seemed that every other sound was hushed, and everything listened to its coming; till at last, out of the moonbeams and the shadows, flashed a tall white horse, ridden by a shape in black.
Arrived opposite the ruins, the horse paused, and its rider, a woman, looked eagerly up and down the road, whereupon, as if at a signal, all the faint sounds of the night became audible again. The woman sat still, listening; and her face looked like marble. After pausing thus motionless for some minutes, she turned from the road, and walked her horse through the broken wall, across a stone-strewn field, and in through the gloomy arch of the silent abbey, till she reached the roofless space within, where the grass grew rank and deep, mingled with monstrous weeds, and running green and slimy over long neglected graves.
How dark and solemn it seemed between those crumbling walls, which only the dark ivy seemed to hold together with its clutching sinewy fingers! yet, through each of the broken windows, and through every archway, the moonlight beamed, making streaks of luminous whiteness on the grassy floor. The horse moved slowly, at his own will, picking his way carefully among fragments of fallen masonry, and stopping short at times to inspect curiously some object in his path. All was bright and luminous overhead; all dim and ominous there below. At last, reaching the centre of the place, the horse paused, and its rider again became motionless, looking upward.
The hosses knew it like their master, Smelt it miles orf, and spank'd the faster!
Ay, bent to reach thet very spot, Flew till they halted steaming hot Sharp opposite the door, among The chicks and children old and young; And down I'd jump, and all the go Was 'Fortune, boss!' and 'Welcome, Joe!'
And Cissy with her shining face, Tho' she was missus of the place, Stood larfing, hands upon her hips; And when upon her rosy lips I put my mouth and gave her one, She'd cuff me, and enjy the fun!
She was a widow young and tight, Her chap had died in a free fight, And here she lived, and round her had Two chicks, three brothers, and her dad, All making money fast as hay, And doing better every day.
Waal! guess tho' I was peart and swift, Spooning was never much my gift; But Cissy was a gal so sweet, So fresh, so spicy, and so neat, It put your wits all out o' place, Only to star' into her face.
Skin whiter than a new-laid egg, Lips full of juice, and sech a leg!
A smell about her, morn and e'en, Like fresh-bleach'd linen on a green; And from her hand when she took mine, The warmth ran up like sherry wine; And if in liquor I made free To pull her larfing on my knee, Why, there she'd sit, and feel so nice, Her heer all scent, her breath all spice!
See! women hate, both young and old, A chap that's over shy and cold, And fire of all sorts kitches quick, And Cissy seem'd to feel full slick The same fond feelings, and at last Grew kinder every time I passed; And all her face, from eyes to chin, Said *'Bravo, Joe! You're safe to win!'
And tho' we didn't fix, d'ye see, In downright words that it should be, Ciss and her fam'ly understood That she and me would jine for good.