Monday, March 25, 2013

The Moon and Sixpence, Gauguin and Artistic Disintegration

It occurs to me now that as writers we disintegrate for our art. I have been wondering if this is the case ever since I recently read The Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham.

In the novel Charles Stickland is an unremarkable and dull stockbroker from England who unexpectedly leaves his social climbing wife and children to become a penniless writer in Paris.


One of Gauguin's paintings from Tahiti


Strickland shows no interest in his comfortable previous life and is driven only to paint. He goes from Paris to the seedy underworld of Marseilles and eventually to Tahiti. He is ridiculed for most of his life and dies an appalling death in paradise. Only after his death is his genius recognized.

The novel is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the leading French Post-Impressionist painter, who worked as a tarpaulin salesman in Copenhagen before his family fell apart and he became a painter in Paris.

The search for an elusive paradise took him in 1891 to French Polynesia where he sought to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional".



Tahiti, marooned in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean seems to conform to all of our ideals of a paradise lost.

"Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker green, in which you divine silent valleys; there is a mystery in their sombre depths, down which murmur and splash cool streams, and you feel that in these umbrageous places life from immemorial times has been led according to immemorial ways," writes Maugham.

"Even here is something sad and terrible. But the impression is fleeting, and serves only to give a greater acuteness to the enjoyment of the moment."

Artists crave such places because of their solitude and majesty. We crave them every time we find ourselves looking for a bathroom part in Lowe's.

12 comments:

  1. I'd like to see Tahiti. Never been a fan of Gauguin though.

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    1. Yep Tahiti would be great JoJo - hmm like some aspects of his work.

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  2. Gauguin was a genius. But, I'm also not a fan.

    Sorry, David, but I missed your comment about Southern Writers' Magazine. It's regional but has a national reach. You're a writer, and you're in Va Beach, a combo that could work. My first entry was a post on their blog. Their website is at www.southernwritersmagazine.com.

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    1. Thanks so much Kittie - I will check this out for sure...

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  3. I like that he just sodded off to Tahiti. I get that. I'd quite like to do the same in Bora Bora.

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    1. Hey Juliette - there's much to be said for sodding off and he made it an art form.

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  4. For some what he did might seem insane, but you are right that for an artist it is an idyllic idea. It's difficult to get in touch with the muse at times when surrounded by the cacophony of ringing phones and screaming sirens. Here's to pulling a Gauguin.

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    1. Yay Tracy - there's much to be said for pulling a Gaugin :)

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  5. I'm not familiar with Gaugin, until now. Those paintings are very nice and calming.

    xoRobyn

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    1. Absolutely Robyn, probably in way of contrast from his chaotic mind.

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  6. I have that book sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to open it and absorb it. Unfortunately, I tend to forget its there. Sigh. I don't know why, one of my favorite novels of all time is The Razor's Edge. Maybe I worry his other works won't be as good...?

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    1. Really I should check that Jen - I love Of Human Bondage, definitely one of my faves..

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