Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Life In the Abstract

My husband and I were invited to some friends’ house on Sunday to view paintings by the prominent Texas artist, Dorothy Hood. My husband has long been an admirer of her work and informed his art collector friends when he learned a significant number of important large paintings were coming up for sale.

Along with the gallery owner, there was a woman present, Susie Kalil, who has made it her mission to “give Dorothy her due” as an important American artist. Susie knew Dorothy and now has access to all of her personal affects which she is using to research a book not only on Dorothy’s art but also her colorful life in preparation for a major exhibition at the South Texas Institute for the Arts. And this is the part that struck me—those personal effects include journals chronicling her entire adult life in detail, letters to and from some of the most prominent artists and writers of the 20th century (she kept carbon copies of the letters she wrote), poems, photographs and sketches that tell the story of the woman behind the art.

As Susie talked about Dorothy’s time in Mexico City in the 1940s which was an intellectual and cultural center not unlike Paris in 1920, I wanted to read the journals and letters for myself to see through Dorothy’s eyes her circle of friends which included Spanish novelist Luis Buñuel, Mexican painters Miguel Covarrubias and Rufino Tamayo, American playwright Sophie Tredwell, German-born artist Mathias Goeritz, Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo and English-born surrealist Leonora Carrington a good friend. On occasion, she stayed at the house of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and painter Frida Kahlo—who wouldn’t read her accounts of those flamboyant figures?

Later she married to Bolivian composer, Velasco Maidana, and together they moved to Houston where she became a prominent figure in the art scene with work in museum collections all over the world. And through it all she recorded her travels and the people she met and maintained her friendships through long, personal letters.

I have to feel a little sad that journals, hand written letters, printed photos and other tangible items are being replaced these days with blog posts, email, telephone calls and digital photos that may be lost as software changes and technology advances. We’re told nothing is ever lost on the internet, but can it be found, examined, assembled to recreate a picture of a vibrant, creative life? Are we losing personal connections now that email and texts have replaced phone calls? Has television replaced conversation and interactive activities?

Don’t get me wrong—I love technology as a convenience in my business and personal life but I also mourn the fast pace that allows us to shortcut the thoughtful communication and introspection for personal journals and handwritten correspondence. I wonder what record will be left behind of our lives in fifty or a hundred years. Maybe this is the question every generation asks.

Do you still write letters or keep a journal? To you call or email? 


Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
Your post reminds me I owe an email-averse friend a letter--the old-fashioned kind on nice paper, written with a gel pen. Why have I procrastinated writing it? Because it requires nice paper, a gel pen, and forethought since I'll want to avoid cross-outs. (The backspace and delete keys on my laptop are near and dear to me.)

Like you, I'd like to read Dorothy Hood's journals and letters. If I'd been one of her contemporaries, though, I'd have been put off by those carbon copies of letters. It appears she was writing for posterity as much as for her friends and acquaintances. Then again, she may have been determined to remember everything.

Lark Howard said...

I don't like handwriting letters for the same reason you don't, Pat--no delete key.

According to Susie, Dorothy kept carbon copies of her letters so she could remember what she wrote to people when she received their replies. Since she corresponded with so many friends and colleagues, I imagine it was hard to keep track of what she wrote to whom. And unlike email, there was no string of messages to refer back to. In that context, it makes sense and what a wonderful resource for her biographer!

Louise Behiel said...

interesting question, Lark. I have shelves of photo albums from when my kids were small but none for my grandchildren - they're all on electronic frames and digital media.

as for writing a letter, uhmmmm no, not for years. If it's not email, it's not happening. In face my dil and I exchange DMs on FB more than we exchange emails. times have changed, haven't they?

Lark Howard said...

I have tons of old photos, too, Louise, and have to wonder where those snapshots of my youth would be if they had been digital--deleted, probably since I was very critical of my appearance back then.

The best thing I've found for saving current photos is having a bound book made of them, but those are generally of my travels and not family events. Maybe I should re-think that....