I am still musing over the book The Melancholy Art, the collecting of art and art objects, and the writing of art history. I am intrigued, for instance, by the list of objects author Michael Ann Holly offers as examples of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s collection: “a Russian icon, an Etruscan cinerarium, inlaid shell cabinets, Greek vases, musical instruments, a sedan chair, heraldry, Arabic glass, a North Indian helmet, numerous autographs, ivories, stained glass, medals and coins, carved boxes, scissors, [and] doorknockers…” [Holly, p. 124-5] and the Bellini painting Christ Carrying the Cross shown in my previous post. This list reminds me of the kinds of eclectic objects Jim Williams (the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) liked to collect. (See my April 1st post.) Williams stressed the importance of putting a collection together in one’s own way. He and Gardner were both, in effect, curators, and their collections as displayed in their respective sites (home, museum) are each, arguably, a kind of art work in itself.
“What do we see when we look at art?” Michael Ann Holly writes. “Something of ourselves, no doubt, reflected back from it? Yes, but surely that’s never all it is. And so we tell stories, spin written words around the work.” [Holly, p. 52]
As a private library, a spirit who hovers among the pages of her books the way her dryad ancestresses dwelled within their trees, I am an unlikely candidate to keep an online diary.But this book made me realize that my purpose here is not unlike that of a writer of art history who tells stories about art works. My subjects, however, are the books in my keeping and the life of their collector.
I also want to promote the idea that the ongoing work of creating and maintaining a library is an artistic endeavor, and that a library, as a physical environment and a curated collection, not only reflects the person or community behind it, but can be an ongoing work of art in itself.(The two photos above, as well as the one below, were taken at The Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library, a library that beautifully reflects its historic community.)
These questions interest me: What books or other media are selected for a library and why? How are they arranged or stored? How does a library best fulfill the needs of its users? (LW would add: At what point does a library take on a life of its own?)
Though just a small private library, I wish to be more artful and more social. I’d like visitors, visitors who would say to LW: “This is a wonderful library–Mind if I browse a bit? Where did you find this book? How fascinating! I could stay here forever.” and not “How do you ever find anything? Do you really read all these? Why do you keep this stuff?”
That’s why I complain: I need to be gleaned, I need to be organized. I need my space. I need purpose. I do not wish to be a mere random pile of books, like those seen strewn across city sidewalks when their vendors desert them to the rain. I am not random: I have things to say, stories to tell, and a life to chronicle. I need to speak. And I can speak volumes.
Holly quotes T.W. Adorno in the preface to her book: “It must be kept in mind that works of art are alive, have a life sui generis. Their life is more than just an outward fate. Over time, great works reveal new facets of themselves, they age, they become rigid, and they die. . . [Yet] they have life because they speak in ways nature and man cannot.” (Holly, p. xi.)