Art and Words and Music and Inspiration

McSorley’s Bar  by John Sloan

Still reading the great New York Diaries (edited by Teresa Carpenter), a compilation of journal entries kept by New Yorkers from 1609 to 2009.

As I go along, I like to tag my favorite journal entries (I’ve left many, many out, of course).

Following is just a small sampling I’ve tagged from this fascinating book. But first, FYI, the cast of characters:

(John Sloan – Artist; Ned Rorem – composer & diarist; Glenway Wescott – novelist; e.e. cummings – poet; Brother Ewald Gustav Schakirk – diarist; Norman Mailer – novelist; Andy Warhol – artist; Augustus van Horne Ellis – lawyer, sea captain, soldier (was killed at Battle of Gettysburg); Keith Haring – artist; Alexis de Tocqueville – French historian; Noel Coward – playwright and composer; Franklin P. Adams – American columnist; Walt Whitman – poet, essayist; Thomas Edison – inventor; Phillipe Petit – highwire artist; Anthony de Hooges – bookkeeper in Dutch West Indies Co.; Evert Augustus Duyckinck – publisher and biographer; Anais Nin– writer; Gertrude Vanderbilt – sculptor, patron of the arts, founder of the Whitney Musuem (Gloria’s aunt); Jonas Mekas – avantgarde film maker)

*    *  *


January 9, 1982: Dined at Maggie Paley’s. She’s at work, like everyone else, on a novel. NED ROREM

Poems of Love and the Rain

January 23, 1907: Well, New York looks good and big and prosperous but the prosperity doesn’t seem to come my way. JOHN SLOAN

January 28, 1939: I bought a newspaper to read on top of the Fifth Avenue bus, and therein came upon the news of the death of Yeats, and to my astonishment experienced an auditory illusion: two or three claps of thunder, not loud, at a distance, but awe-inspiring on that bright winter day. GLENWAY WESCOTT

January 30, 1923: At the Chinese restaurant: A fly—although it was not summer, but January, but winter, but snow outside halfslush and the air dull wet cold—a fly, pointed microscopic, absurd, intelligent, jigged about a small area which was visibly no different from the rest of the tablecloth and which was in fact created merely by his motion. e.e.cummings

February 3, 1908: Exhibition at Macbeth’s opens…I felt that my clothes were not of the prosperous aspect necessary to this city. The appearance of poverty is the worst possible advertising these days. JOHN SLOAN

February 4, 1780: This week sleighs have crossed over ice from Staten Island to this city, which has hardly been known before. BROTHER EWALD GUSTAV SCHAUKIRK

February 7, 1906: No work for me. JOHN SLOAN

February 7, 1955: After lunch, and how I hated giving up time for lunch. So many ideas I had while I bolted my food, and so many of them must be lost. NORMAN MAILER

February 16, 1911: Such long stops between illustrations that I get out of the swing of things. It makes me feel poorly in my mind. JOHN SLOAN

March 11, 1978: I had a lot of dates but decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows. ANDY WARHOL

April 3, 1842: Sally [canary] laid her first egg. AUGUSTUS VAN HORNE ELLIS

April 5, 1842: Sally laid another egg. AUGUSTUS VAN HORNE ELLIS

April 14, 1980: I missed Cosmology class. I completely forgot. I never thought about it the whole day till I saw Kenny and he said, “God is light.” KEITH HARING

May 5, 1976: And so I am a Pulitzer Prize winner. NED ROREM

May 15, 1842: Sally hatched another bird. AUGUSTUS VAN HORNE ELLIS

MAY 15, 1831: All the Americans whom we have encountered up to now, even the simplest shop salesman, seem to have received, or wish to appear to have received, a good education. Their manners are grave, deliberate, reserved, and they all wear the same clothes. ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE

May 18, 1842: Both [Sally’s hatchlings] dead. Dick [her mate] killed them.

June 3, 1948: Woke feeling nerve-shattered and hating everything to do with New York. NOEL COWARD

June 12, 1911: Great talk of subway plans, yet do they not come, till that I am like to lose my patience. To the Art museum in the afternoon, which thrilled me not at all, though the Sargent has limned some passable portraits. FRANKLIN P. ADAMS

June 21, 1856: It seems to be quite clear and determined that I should concentrate my powers [on] “Leaves of Grass”—not diverting any of my means, strength, interest to the construction of anything else—of any other book, WALT WHITMAN

July 12, 1885: …perhaps dandruff is the excreta of the mind—the quantity of this material being directly proportional to the amount of reading one indulges in. THOMAS EDISON

July 13, 1804: If I could get my mind down to details perhaps [ I ] could learn to sharpen it, but on the other hand I might cut myself. THOMAS EDISON

August 3, 1984: Went to Bernsohn, the crystal doctor, and he worked on my pancreas. ANDY WARHOL

August 7, 1974: …Wire and I together, we voluptuously penetrate the cloudy layer that melts as we approach, as we pass between the twin towers….I walk on air that softens under each set. I glide each foot. I cut through the whitish lump of breeze with the knife of my balancing pole…PHILIPPE PETIT

August 23, 1641: The wind variable. Our sailors again hauled water. A dead horse overboard. ANTONY DE HOOGES

August 26, 1847: Catarrh and Ennui. EVERT DUYCKINCK

September 1, 1919: Yesterday afternoon I wrote a short story. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a great many ideas have come to me and I receive them with pleasure, as this doesn’t often happen….Furthermore, I am here in this great country of opportunity, so I can try. And what enthusiasm is tied to this dream of hope and ambition! ANAIS NIN

September 9, 1906: Sat in Madison Square. Watched the Throbbing Fountain. Think I’ll soon tackle a plate on this subject. The sensuous attraction of the spurts of water is strong subconsciously on everyone. JOHN SLOAN

September 10, 1894: Keep yourself under control completely. Never for a moment let your feelings get the best of you. You will be sorry and unhappy as well if you do…Don’t let yourself imagine things, above all don’t exaggerate. People do little things out of politeness or kindness, but not out of any deeper feeling. You are Miss Vanderbilt. GERTRUDE VANDERBILT

Spirit of Flight By Gertrude Vanderbilt

September 10, 1953: …And I stand here in my tiny 95 Orchard Street room, looking out the window, overlooking the street—the ceiling is peeling off, pieces of paint are falling down on the books—I am standing here, trying to let my roots grow into this city. JONAS MEKAS

*  *  *

September 10th seems a good place to stop. The rest I will leave up to you…

There is so much more inside this fascinating book than could ever fit on this page. You don’t have to be a New Yorker to read it. There are big chunks of history inside — but not the dull, dead sort of history they taught you in school. All of it is personal. It comes alive!

Before I bid you fare thee well, here are two quotes to ponder:

History repeats itself, and that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history. – Clarence Darrow

No artist needs criticism, he only need appreciation. If he needs criticism he is no artist. – Gertrude Stein

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