November 9, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 7

This is an ongoing correspondence about art writing between Ignacio Szmulewicz and me. You can read the whole series here.

Poster The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Dear An, 

I just finished watching The Royal Tenenbaums. I’d seen a picture of Wes Anderson’s movie on Twitter and I don’t remember how but I kept it in the back of my mind for the entire week. For some reason, the things that we do, have most of the time a larger and hidden connection to who we are. In this case, I can enter a film every time of the day, as if falling down a rabbit hole. Measured by the standard definition of “working,” this may considered to be a form of procrastination –take a look at the stand-up comedy of Ellen DeGeneres about this–, but in some cases, movies –and also listening to some records or reading a novel– serves as the kind of food that I need to feel alive. It’s the kind of food that keeps me wondering. The city often gives me an enormous and overwhelming sense of life, like on that painting of Caspar David Friedrich. I feel like that character, king of the hill, with the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra, contemplating the marvels of the megacities. I can easily imagine the infinite stories that are going on in that second, like in the opening scene of The Royal Tenenbaums

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, circa 1818

In that regard, I consider myself very lucky to have this kind of job. Writing came to me as natural as riding a bike or climbing a tree. Some people write as a form of expression, as a kind of material that is very private and it needs to get out of the body; other people write as a form of survival. Like Robert Walser's Microscripts, which he didn’t stop writing, even when he entered by his own volition in the psychiatric hospital. I write, as you said in your letter, for the pleasure of transmitting the beautiful things, thoughts, and experiences that I have with different kind of art works. 

Manuscript of Robert Walser

I’ve always felt that the part related to this wondering about the experience of arts –the space, lighting, composition, story– is very important for any kind of content. Enrique Lihn, a wonderful Chilean critic, who died at the end of the eighties, wrote once a perfect metaphor for art writing:  once he said that an exhibition is like a forest where it is very hard to see the outside. For a while I though that he was talking about the need to order things or the fact that the critic was like a guide to get out of the forest. I never realized that he was talking about the need of ever person to find a way out, and that the movement, the search was the most important part of it. In any case, the art experience is like being in a very thick forest. 

That is why I get very moved by every form of art that has to do with a journey, a search, and also with opacity, with the sense that there is no way out. On the other hand, despite what I told you in a previous letter, I consider it very important that the text delivers a sense of communication, a charming connection with others. That is why I feel like our job is pretty close to the essential motivation of Amélie Poulain: to put people in touch with the beautiful, dramatic, terrible and amazing things of everyday life. That’s why I could never have the conviction that most brilliant artists need to have to produce their own ideas, but I could spend my whole life telling why this or that book, painting or movie is worthwhile. 

The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain (2001)
How do you feel about this? What do you say when people ask you why you choose to be a critic and not an artist? 

With the summer breeze that has just arrived here, I say goodbye. 


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