A Not So Common Reader

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman ★★★★

Author Anne Fadiman has book love well anchored in her genetic pool. A cursory glance at wikipedia tells us she is the daughter of the renowned literary, radio and television personality Clifton Fadiman, who among other things, was in charge of The New Yorker’s book review section between 1933 and 1943, while her mother is author and former World War II correspondent Annalee Jacoby Fadiman. She  also attended Harvard University, graduating in 1975 from Radcliffe College. I would say therefore, that I have one major grudge with this book: that the title “Confession of a Common Reader” is quite misleading, if the word is taken to mean  “ordinary”. But my grudge won’t hold. True to her scholarly and literary background, Fadiman’s title pays homage to Virginia Woolf’s essays written under the title The Common Reader.  A 1925 review of Woolf’s Common Reader in The New York Times stated: “Anything that Virginia Woolf may have to say about letters is of more than ordinary interest, for her peculiar intelligence and informed attitude set her somewhat apart.” and also: “Mrs. Woolf is no common reader, try as she may to be one.” These words could equally be applied to Anne Fadiman. Continue reading

Can Creativity Save Lives?

If you’ve been reading me, then you must know I’ve been looking through various name listings lately. I’m looking at “old English names” “Author names” “Artist Names”, etc. for the precious bundle of joy due to arrive here in just 4 or 5 days. Imagine my surprise when I saw listed under “H” in artist names a certain Adolph Hitler. I do recall reading somewhere that he had considered studies in art and architecture. I had never delved too much into the personal history of the man because had never considered him as a human being before—just a scary monster who was best left along with the other underbed dwellers—so the following entry in About.com somehow chilled me to the bone:

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Hitler described himself as a painter in the Academic tradition. Most everyone else who’s seen his work has described Hitler’s painting style as either “Bad” or “Extremely bad.”

Date and place of birth: April 20, 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria

Life: Though he became convinced in his youth that he possessed great artistic talent, very few other people (besides his own mother) felt similarly about Adolf Hitler. He received an “excellent” mark in Art during his final year of formal schooling, but his failure to complete a Leaving Certificate in the U.S. equivalent of high school did him no favors when he first took the exam to enter the prestigious Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Art in Vienna) in 1907. Ostensibly rejecting him for lack of academic skills, the Academy’s admissions department also commented on Hitler’s lack of understanding of human anatomy. Undaunted, Hitler again took the entrance exam in 1908, with similar results. He temporarily refocused on a future in architecture but this, too, did not come to pass due to lack of education. Regrettably, he then embarked upon a well-documented crooked path toward attempted world domination after this final artistic disappointment.

Important works: None of his own. The most important thing Hitler did for art was to spotlight the “Degenerates” – artists whose works were avant garde, or otherwise failed to meet National Socialist arts policies. Of course, he did this for the wrong reasons, wanting to ridicule and ruin talented artists’ careers. No one was more enraged than he when his plan backfired and the public flocked to Degenerate exhibitions.

Date and place of death: April 30, 1945, Berlin (Committed suicide in an underground bunker of the chancellery building.)

Art quotes by Adolph Hitler:

  • All my life I have wanted to be a great painter in oils … As soon as I have carried out my program for Germany, I shall take up painting. I feel that I have it in my soul to become one of the great artists of the age and that future historians will remember me not for what I have done for Germany, but for my art.
  • As for the degenerate artists, I forbid them to force their so-called experiences upon the public. If they do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals, and should go to prison. I will purge the nation of them.
  • My pictures, in the collections which I have bought in the course of years, have never been collected for private purposes, but only for the extension of a gallery in my home town of Linz on Donau. – from Hitler’s Last Will and Testament dated April 29, 1945.

Sources and Further Reading (see original article)

As you may know (or can easily find out by reading a bit more of this blog), I am on a journey of recovery and so far the most effective form of treatment to get me out of a debilitating clinical depression (the state I’m in by default if I’m not being manic) has been to make creativity and creative output the priority in my life, and wanting to share this experience led me to start createthreesixty5.com.

So far I’ve been very impressed with the quality of work our collaborators have submitted, and I do want to encourage almost all creative effort at all level of experience, perceived talent or skill. But I have asked myself the question “what if someone starts sending in truly horrible stuff? Will I want to have my name attached to that as an aesthete, as a Creative & Art Director?” So far I haven’t had to deal with this issue. But after reading the above, and especially the excellent New Yorker article called Hitler as Artist (the chilling conclusion addresses an issue I have struggled with for the better part of my life), I’m starting to think I have a strong ethical responsibility if I am to become any kind of authority on Creativity at any point in time.

The moral of the story? Better let people express themselves, however “badly” than brimming their creative impulses and risk them lashing out and becoming mass murderers on a universal scale instead. Sheesh.

Drawing by Adolph Hitler. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t find it so bad and would publish it on the other site if someone sent me something in a similar vein. A most troubling thought, all things considered.