"A portrait is not an identificative paper but rather the curve of an emotion" -James Joyce

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Strunk & White Painting

     I have several books from which I draw inspiration, and none more than Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.  Many of the suggestions, definitions, or editorializing sound to me like plain good advice for the visual artist.  The book has a mimetic quality as it shows good writing first, and describes it second.  Like many books worth reading it is worth keeping.  It was a classic when I was young and I am not even sure how widely used it is today.  The relationship between White and Strunk is well illustrated and there is a subtle layer of biography amidst what seems like a manual.
     As a painter, it is important to learn from good painters.  It is equally important to learn from good teachers, and from the pages of The Elements of Style I will offer some small excerpts that I think are more relevant to my work than words of most painters, Delacroix and Motherwell aside.  I would call these rules or declarations "meaningful" if Strunk hadn't defined the word as a "bankrupt expression."  The cover has gone through many classic phases itself, this cover on the left is one of my favorites.  I can only imagine what the version that I buy for my children will look like.  Known for a while as "the little book" it was one dude's thoughts, recorded by a former student, on the principles of composition and "a few matters of form."

"Omit needless words!"

"Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

"If you don't know how to say a word, say it loud!  Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?"

"Allude.  Do not confuse with elude.  You allude to a book.  you elude a pursuer.  Note, too, that allude is not synonymous with refer.  An allusion is an indirect mention, a reference is a specific one."

"Allusion.  Easily confused with illusion.  The first means indirect reference, the second means an unreal image or a false impression."

"Divided into.  Not to be misused for composed of.  The line is sometimes difficult to draw;  doubtless plays are divided into acts, but poems are composed of stanzas."

"Fix.  Colloquial in America for arrange, prepare, mend.  The usage is well established.  But bear in mind that this verb is from Figere: 'to make firm,' 'to place definitely.'"

"Partially.  Not always interchangeable with partly.  Best use in the sense of 'to a certain degree,' when speaking of a condition or state: 'I'm partially resigned to it.'  Partly carries the idea of a part as distinct from the whole- usually a physical object."

"Style has no such separate entity;  It is nondetachable, unfilterable."

"The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity."

"Do not overstate."

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