Art in the Dark (by Clairan Ferrono)


Mark Rothko, No 10, 1950

I had meant to do another post (no groaning please!) on women Abstract Expressionists I’m discovering. I was deciding between Pearl Fine and Buffy Johnson (and no doubt they shall have their time in the sun). But then I read an essay that so moved me, and has kept me thinking and mulling over ideas, that I decided to post about it, although there are no pretty pictures. . . .

The title of David Grossman’s article “Writing in the Dark” reflects his situation: he is an Israeli novelist, who has lived, as he says “in the extreme and violent reality of a political, military and religious conflict.” He recalls the words of the mouse in Kafka’s “Little Fable” who, as a trap closes on him, says “Alas. . . the world is growing narrower every day.” Grossman states that a void is growing between people and the traumatic times and situations in which they live — a void which “is filled rapidly — with apathy. . .cynicism. . .and despair.”

One result of this growing feeling that redemption is not possible, says the author, is a numbing of the self, a shell of indifference and a cessation of empathy. And as the world narrows, “So does the language that describes it. . . .Language gradually becomes a sequence of cliches and slogans. . . . cliches that are, ultimately, a collection of superstitions and crude generalizations.”

And in this bleak world, he writes. And writing is “a Quixote-like craft of creation ” and writers are his allies who “weave an intangible cobweb, which nevertheless has tremendous power, a world-changing and world-creating power, the power of making the dumb speak and the power of tikkkun or correction in the deep sense it has in kabbalah.”

Writing for Grossman, as art for all us artists, creates a “space” — which opens up the world for him: “I write. I imagine. The act of imagining in itself enlivens me. . . .I write. I feel the wealth of possibilities inherent in any human situation. I sense my ability to choose between them. The sweetness of liberty. . . .”

So, Grossman, who lost his son Uri in the Israel-Lebanon war, finds that writing does two things for him ( and by extension for the society in which he lives): it creates a world in which he can escape for a time the personal and societal horror he lives in; and it creates a better world — not the world of the novel or story — but a better actual world in which feeling can be felt, desire desired, freedom experienced and a world of possibilities opening. The act of creation frees us and helps us grow.

Grossman has beautifully expressed for me what the artist can do — what our job is and how and why it is important: “We write. The world is not closing in on us. How fortunate we are. The world is not growing increasingly narrow.”

I think it is a beautiful image — the narrowing of focus, the enlarging of the world view. How does this work in your practice?

This essay, from the 13 May 2007 NYT Magazine, was adapted from a lecture David Grossman delivered at PEN’s World Voices Festival on April 29, 2007 and was translated from the Hebrew by Orr Scharf.

June has persuaded me that pictures would be nice. So I chose some beautiful Mark Rothkos that inspire me. They open the world for me because they are balanced, luminous and harmonious.


No 61, 1953



Untitled, 1960



No 1, 1954

2 Responses to “Art in the Dark (by Clairan Ferrono)”

  1. 1 clairan May 29, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    I can see why you like Victoria Crowe, June. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. 2 june May 29, 2007 at 9:15 am

    I too read this essay and was terribly moved by it. I was reminded of a Scottish painter, Victoria Crowe, whom Marion Barnett introduced me to. She lost a college age son to cancer and says that the painting was all that kept her going. Her paintings are startling and wonderful, troubled but beautiful. There’s a fine book using her words and her images, the name of which as well as its placement in my bookcases, escapes me. It’s one of my treasures.

    The narrowing of focus for me, sometimes, can actually put my petty troubles into perspective — Today’s Writer’s Almanac (Garrison Keillor) had a poem by Louise Erdrich which reads in part:

    Advice to Myself
    Leave the dishes.
    Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
    and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
    Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
    Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
    Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
    Don’t even sew on a button.
    Let the wind have its way, …don’t worry
    who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
    matches, at all.
    Except one word to another. Or a thought.
    Pursue the authentic-decide first
    what is authentic,
    then go after it with all your heart.
    Your heart, that place
    you don’t even think of cleaning out.

    Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
    except what destroys
    the insulation between yourself and your experience
    or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
    this ruse you call necessity.

    Poem: “Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.

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