|S. Leigh Watercolor and Sketch|
|A Miccail, by S. Leigh|
|Modigliani's Jeanne Hébuterne|
|Salomon's "Life? Or Theater?"|
|Klimt's Lady With Fan (Emilio Floge)|
|S. Leigh Watercolor and Sketch|
|A Miccail, by S. Leigh|
|Modigliani's Jeanne Hébuterne|
|Salomon's "Life? Or Theater?"|
|Klimt's Lady With Fan (Emilio Floge)|
"Men in woman-suits do not women make, and the novel's purpose in the world is to create story to carry forth common values and shared ethos; when those values are deformed, and that deformation taken for true, we all suffer." Janet E. Morris - 2013
Intro) JEM: Art is the process and Beauty the goalHerein we’ll briefly explore Art and Beauty in fantastical literature, which may include fantasy and horror for purposes of discussion, not only historically, but how this single core issue is changing today: is Art and its associated Beauty still a valid goal in modern fiction, despite the vast quantity of fiction written by those aiming to capture the lowest common denominator of readership?
JEM: When I wrote High Couch of Silistra, I was twenty-five and loved being female; my body and mind were my laboratory, and I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find to read: not a book that was a clumsy attempt to treat a woman as a man, or as an enemy or competitor of men, or as a victim of men, but as someone powerful in a different society for genetic and political reasons; a protagonist whose sensuality and sexuality are at the heart of her world, and whose travails are self-created, so that I could explore the genetics of behavior: Estri, protagonist, is a courtesan and an adventuress, but not a sword-swinging hero tougher than any man around her. The books explore the differences and complementarities between men and women and the exercise of power, both personal and societal; they aren’t about a man who happens to live in a woman’s body. The Silistra Quartet is well discussed by Kaler in The Picara, where she compares the Silistra Quartet to the Picara model, from which it does purposely diverge.
My strategy was simply to write a book that spoke for a unique viewpoint, not for the “woman’s movement” (who were offended that it diverged from their politics) or the conservative male-backlash audience. Like Disraeli, I always write the book I want to read. In Silistra, all stereotypes are turned on their heads; emotion rules; sexuality is sometimes graphic as it pertains to power among and between sexes: it’s a book about people balancing free will against their hard-wired natures, not about women in man-suits or men in woman-suits. At the end of Wind from the Abyss, the third in the series, Estri’s counterpart Sereth reminds us, “We are all bound, the highest no less than the meanest.” Human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.
None of our heroines have ever worn chain mail: Estri's chains are on her wait and sometimes on her writs; Shebat Kerrion, our science fantasy heroine of the Dream Dancer/Kerrion Consortium trilogy, is a newcomer to the space-faring culture where she wanders and a catalyst for change; the various Sacred Band of Stepsons heroines include Jihan, who has scale armor and a few supernatural powers appropriate to the daughter of the god of wind and wave; Kama has leather and linen armor, just like the men she serves among (she wants to be a man so her father will respect her, but is a poet most of all); Cime wears god-forged armor or doeskin leathers, is a sorcerer-slayer by vocation, is also picaresque, and rules Tempus' heart and by extension, the Sacred Band at times. It's not their weapons or outfits or special powers that make them heroic, but their goals and deeds, hopes and dreams. When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work.
Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover Art
(this next paragraph is paraphrased from her Goodreads.com comment): I was a fine arts major in school. My first cover was the Boris High Couch, commissioned by Bantam for High Couch of Silistra. I didn't think it matched the description, so I got Bantam to arrange for me to talk to him and request changes (feathered wings to non-feathered, etc). He didn't like that. So we changed to someone else thereafter. I had always loved the Frazetta covers, and in Germany I had Chris Achilleos for the German versions of the Silistra series, then Frazetta for the German Tempus. But now that I have cover control, I'm choosing Rubens and ancient art that truly moves me. The new cover for Tempus, and The Sacred Band cover, and the Beyond sub-series with Rubens covera, are pleasing me because I can look at them for hours and always see something that evokes the heart of the stories within. Matching books to cover, when centuries separate book and cover creation, has been an adventure. Strangest experience was finding the three Rubens we're using for Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall and realizing that each of those three paintings fit one of the three books nearly perfectly.
SEL asks whether I’m aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty in my work and, if so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? The answer to that is simple: like everyone concerned with writing Art, I am always striving, always hoping to improve, always experimenting, pushing my limits, trying to reach Homeric heights – but for me in my time, not by copying him in his. What is most beautiful about literature as Art is its ability to transport, to materialize a vision, whole cloth, in the reader’s mind, and I’m still working on doing that. The most representative of my books is probably my most recent novel, written with Chris Morris, The Sacred Band, grappling as it does with what is common to all, and unique in some: taking hold of mythos and ethos, sexuality of every sort, and exploring power and emotion at their best and worst. My favorite of my books is I, the Sun, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas, Great King of Hatti, because his own words set my soul afire, and the task – flavoring my style with his writings, creating a relative chronology, and bringing so many historical people to life – was unparalleled in its demands on my ability. My favorite science fiction book, Outpassage, written with Chris Morris, is my greatest success so far with writing a group of futuristic, strong, heroic and villainous female characters.My female characters, no more or less than my male characters, speak for themselves, not for a grand plan to redress centuries of perceived grievances, or to be role models for a future of retributive bile, where men and women are retaught their roles, and those roles are precisely the same. If, indeed, Art is the process and Beauty the goal, and if ‘common values’ can still be transferred to future generations through literature, then only reality and its study can yield fantasy worth reading, and making women into men and men into women won’t have my desired result: a book that satisfies me, since I must go first into any adventure I write, and live there.
JEM: My answer is simple: Of course I do. And of course it is valid to consciously strive for greatness in any art-form, and literature most of all, since literature carries our culture forward, gives voice to our inner selves most directly, speaks for us in no uncertain terms to a future yet unformed. I think of my own work as a search for Art and strive for beauty in every line: for power, lyricism, brutality, mythos and ethos, and I do this by invoking character, not diatribe.
"Beauty requires that we breathe into our characters a unique view of the human condition, and show how that character experiences and suffers the world around him (her)." Janet E. Morris - 2013
"Today, the writer, be that author male or female, makes a choice, at the outset: to reach for greatness and challenge an audience, or even change them; or to please a common denominator of audience by writing a familiar tale told artlessly. It is rare to attempt both, even rarer to achieve both.
So why try for Art and Beauty, when what most people want is a short, easy read, simple and direct? For some, Art is its own reward, and Beauty brings Art to the life in the mind. Before these art-seeking souls today, a wilderness stretches: many more craftsmen exist than artists, and the good, invariably, is the enemy of the great." Janet E. Morris - 2013
"Then you may die." And Mazirian caused the creature to revolve at ever greater speeds, faster and faster, until there was only a blur. A strangled wailing came and presently the Deodand's frame parted. The head shot like a bullet far down the glade; arms, legs, viscera flew in a direction." -- Ch2- Mazirian the MagicianThe brisk pace belies the serious, philosophical undertones that persist throughout. The milieu does involve the decline of earth, after all, but Vance does not dwell on it. The action is at the forefront, but darkness is continuously dosed. One moment he'll be describing some present urgency, and then he will sneak in a bit of epic, chronic darkness:
"At one famous slaughtering, Golickan Kodek the Conqueror had herded here the populations of two great cities, G'Vasan and Bautiku, constricted them in a circle three miles across, gradually pushed them tighter and tighter, panicked them toward the center within his flapping-armed sub-human cavalry, until at last he had achieved a gigantic, squirming mound, half a thousand feet high, a pyramid of screaming flesh."-- Ch2- Mazirian the MagicianBeauty Theme: The tales share many of the same characters, but each has a different protagonist. The protagonist from the six tale (Guyal) seems to speaks on behalf of the author's muses; he invites readers to consider:
"Where does beauty vanish when it goes?"Vance's work seems genuinely motivated by an appreciation of art and the mourning of lost beauty. He seemed to be following in succession from like-authors. Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft all delved into evoking emotions through their art; they were serious writers who philosophized and wrote essays regarding "Weird Beauty" in literature. The undercurrents of dark muses in literary horror fascinate some (link). Below are excerpts and comments of Beauty's themes in The Dying Earth (per story):
Guyal's Father Answers: "Beauty is a luster which love bestows to guile the eye. Therefore it may be said that only when the brain is without love will the eye look and see no beauty." - Story 6- Guyal of Sfere
"[Turjan] considered its many precursors: the thing all eyes, the boneless creature with the pulsing surface of its brain exposed, the beautiful female body whose intestines trailed out into the nutrient solution like seeking fibrils, the inverted inside-out creatures...Turjan sighed bleakly. His methods were at fault; a fundamental element was lacking from his synthesis, a matrix ordering the components of the pattern."Turjan needed more knowledge to complete his goal. This compels him toward making a woman who appreciates beauty (to compete with another woman who cannot detect beauty).
"For some time I have been striving to create humanity in my vats. Yet always I fail, from ignorance of the agent that binds and orders patterns."
"This is no science, this is an art, where equations fall to the elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."
"Certain plants swam with changing iridescences; others held up blooms pulsing like sea-anemones, purple, green, lilac, pink, yellow. Here grew trees like feather parasols, trees with transparent trunks threaded with red and yellow veins, trees with foliage like metal foil, each leaf a different metal--copper, silver, blue tantalum, bronze, green iridium. Here blooms like bubbles tugged gently upward from glazed green leaves, there a shrub bore a thousand pipe-shaped blossoms, each whistling softly to make music of the ancient Earth, of the ruby-red sunlight, water seeping through black soil, the languid winds…"3) T'sais: The titular character, once an antagonist piece-of-art, searches out the ability to see beauty on Earth. As she describes:
"Pandelume created me," continues T'sais, "but there was a flaw in the pattern." And T'sais stared into the fire. "I see the world as a dismal place: all sounds to me are harsh, all living creatures vile, in varying degrees--things of sluggish movement and inward filth. During the first of my life I thought only to trample, crush, destroy. I knew nothing but hate. Then I met my sister T'sain, who is as I without the flaw. She told me of love and beauty and happiness--and I came to Earth seeking those."Etarr, an ugly companion of T'sais who had his hansom face switched with a demon's, goes with her to witness a Black Sabbath. As they watch the demons congragate, Vance philosophizes:
"Even here is beauty," he whispered. "Weird and grotesque, but a sight to enchant the mind."4) Laine the Wayfarer : Laine the arrogant magician is challenged to repair a piece of art: Lith's tapestry. Therein is depicted the Magic Valley of Ariventa, but it has been cut in half. Can he restore it?
"This is the Museum," said Guyal in a rapt tone. "Here there is no danger...He who dwells in beauty of this sort may never be other than beneficent…"All in all, a recommended read to any sci-fi and fantasy buff, and to any reader who also likes RPGs. Feel welcome to join the discussion (at any time...even if the official group-read time expires):Group-Read Link.
Finnish Landscape by *niccolobonfadini His caption: During winter, with temperatures ranging from -40 to -15, the trees in some areas of the Finnish Lapland get completely covered by snow and ice. This makes for a unique landscape, where everything is white and frozen as far as the eyes can see. That morning I slept in my tent to watch the sun rise from the top of a hill.
The difference between artist and scientist was once more obscure than today. The processes of exploring the unknown via art or science are different but the methodologies share the same motivating source and subject. For me, scientific and artistic muses connect the naturally divine to the artificially materialistic; practicing creative processes brings comfort, satisfaction, and revelation of life's mysteries; following creative muses is enlightening. Along these lines, I have long been a resolute agnostic, refusing to arbitrarily ascribe a name, face, or religion to all that is incomprehensible (read god), but as scientist and artist, I do have a faith using creative processes to connect with the ineffable.
Although this distinction between nature and art, between natural and artificial things, is very easily made and very convenient, it is needful top remember that, in the long run, we owe everything to nature; that even those artificial objects which we commonly say are made by men, are only natural objects shaped and moved by men; and that, in the sense of creating, that is to say of causing something to exist which did not exist in some other shape before, man can make nothing whatever...Carpenters, builders, shoemakers, and all other artisans and artists, are persons who have learned so much of the powers and properties of certain natural objects, and of the chain of causes and effects in nature, as enables them to shape and put together those natural objects, so as to be useful to man (Huxley 1888) i
Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist...iiIn a correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns. Howard is often credited with being the originator of today's Sword & Sorcery genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn. In December 1933, Howard wrote to Smith about his Conan muse:
'While I don't go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existing spirits or powers, though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything, I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present--or even the future--work through the thought and actions of living men.
Gary Gianni's Looming Dark Man (Muse, Bran Mak Morn)
'This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen--or rather off my typewriter--almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded upon episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them.
'For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn't do it.'I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. This has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.' iii
It is said of the philosopher and thaumaturge Empedocles that he claimed the existence of two suns. The hermetic doctrines also include a double sun, and distinguish between a bright spirit-sun, the philosophical gold, and the dark natural sun, corresponding to material gold. The former consists of the essential fire that is conjoined with the ether of the 'glowing air'. The idea of the vivifying fire - Heraclitus (6th century B.C.) calls it 'artistic' fire running through all things - is a legacy of Persian magic. Its invisible effect supposedly distinguishes the Work of the alchemists from that of the profane chemists. The natural sun, however, consists of the known, consuming fire, whose precisely dosed use also determines the success of the enterprise.iv
|Harry Clarke - Masque of Red Death|
Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.' iThe notion that the soul is best tapped via the senses is rampant in alchemical history, as Leonardo Da Vinci's notes on becoming a painter are often quoted, "The eye, which is called the window of the soul, is the principal means by which the central sense can most completely and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of nature." But is this path via our senses one that the soul can reversibly traverse? Poe addressed this notion his 1842 short story Oval Portrait, as a soul is literally drawn out of a subject and transported into a portrait, killing the former:
Turning to the number in which designated the oval portrait, I there read the vague and quaint words which follow: "She was the maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn: loving and cherishing all things: hating only the Art which was her rival: dreading only the palette and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover. iiWeird literature appears obsessed with this goal of transmuting intangible spirits into objects of art. In a letter to pulp fiction writer E. Hoffman Price, Lovecraft succinctly defined the nature and purpose of the weird artist/writer in terms all too similar to that of alchemist vocabulary:
The genuine artist in the weird is trying to crystallize in at least semi-tangible form one of several typical and indefinite moods unquestionably natural to human beings, and in some individuals very profound, permanent, and intense...moods involving the habitual lure and terror and imagination-stirring qualities of the unknown or half-known, the burning curiosity of the active mind concerning the fathomless abysses of inaccessible space which press in on us from every side, and the instinctive revolt of the restless ego against the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law. When a writer succeeds in translating these nebulous urges into symbols which in some way satisfy the imagination-symbols which adroitly suggest actual glimpses into forbidden dimensions, actual happenings following the myth-patterns of human fancy, actual voyages of thought or body into the nameless deeps of tantalizing space, and actual evasions, frustrations, or violations of the commonly accepted laws of the cosmos-then he is a true artist in every sense of the word. He has produced genuine literature by accomplishing a sincere emotional catharsis.iiiIn other words, the goal of the weird writer is to transmute the ineffable into a digestible symbol for the curious to consume, even if it scares them! Lovecraft wrote an essay on how to write weird fiction called simply Notes On Writing Weird Fiction (available on-line), in which he also reveals his motivations (this was published post humorously and is now readily available on the internet):
My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best-one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or "outsideness" without laying stress on the emotion of fear.iv
|Goya's Saturn Devouring Son|
"You know it takes profound art and profound insight to turn out stuff like Pickman's. Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witch's Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That's because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear - the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness" v
"You know, in ordinary art, there's all the difference in the world between the vital, breathing things drawn from Nature or models and the artificial truck that commercial small fry reel off in a bare studio by rule. Well, I should say the really weird artist has a kind of vision which makes models, or summons up what amounts to actual scenes from the spectral world he lives in." viLikewise, Howard funneled his views of weird art though his characters. For instance, in The House in the Oaks (a story posthumously finished by August Derleth). Howard uses the artist Humphrey Skyler to speak on his behalf (this section was written by Howard):
The effect of horror is best gained when the sensation is most intangible. To put the horror in visible shape, no matter how gibbous or mistily, is to lessen the effect. I paint an ordinary tumble-down farmhouse with the hint of a ghastly face at a window; but this house-this house-needs no such mummery or charlatanry; it exudes an aura of abnormality-that is, to a man sensitive to such impression.viiIn fact his contemporary Clark Ashton Smith (1893- 1961) agreed. Of these authors, Smith was the most eclectic in craft, being also an illustrator, sculptor and poet. In an October 24th 1930 letter to Lovecraft he described his strategy of using aesthetics to heighten the reading experience of his weird works:
My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation. You attain a black magic, perhaps unconsciously, in your pursuit of corroborative detail and verisimilitude. But I fear that I don't always attain verisimilitude in my pursuit of magic! However, I sometimes suspect that the wholly unconscious elements in writing (or other art) are by far the most important viii
|Smith's Genuis Loci|
I examined the drawings attentively. Both, though of hurried execution, were highly meritorious, and showed the characteristic grace and vigour of Amberville's style. And yet, even at first glance, I found a quality that was more alien to the spirit of his work. The elements of the scene were those he had described. In one picture, the pool was half hidden by a fringe of mace-weeds, and the dead willow was leaning across it at a prone, despondent angle, as if mysteriously arrested in its fall towards the stagnant waters. Beyond, the alders seemed to strain away from the pool, exposing their knotted roots as if in eternal effort. In the other drawing, the pool formed the main portion of the foreground, with the skeleton tree looming drearily at one side. At the water's farther end, the cat-tails seemed to wave and whisper among themselves in a dying wind; and the steeply barring slope of pine at the meadow's terminus was indicated as a wall of gloomy green that closed in the picture, leaving only a pale of autumnal sky at the top. ixFrom Clark Ashton Smith's awesomely dark Zothique yarns, he overtly expressed his personal views as poetically. In his 1934 short story The Weaver in the Vault, his character Grotara is last surviving of a three member party commissioned to explore distant ruins to retrieve the remains of a mummy; below, Grotora dies by the evil, but beautiful, force of the aesthetic Weaver:
He could not tell the duration of the weaving, the term of his enthrallment. Dimly, at last, he beheld the thinning of the luminous threads, the retraction of the trembling arabesques. The globe, a thing of evil beauty, alive and aware in some holocryptic fashion, had risen now from the empty armor of Yanur. Diminishing to its former size, and putting off its colors of blood and opal, it hung for a little while above the chasm...After that, there were ages of fever, thirst and madness, of torment and slumber, and recurrent struggling against the massive block that held him prisoner. He babbled insanely, he howled like a wolf; or, lying supine and silent, he heard the multitudinous, muttering voices of ghouls that conspired against him. Gangrening swiftly, his crushed extremities seemed to throb like those of a Titan. He drew his sword with the strength of delirium, and endeavored to saw himself free at the shins, only to swoon from loss of blood. xEdgar Allen Poe (1809 - 1849) subscribed to evoking melancholy to stimulate 'Beauty'; this instead of fear. In his 1846 Philosophy of Composition, Poe revealed his views on experiential beauty by detailing the deliberate construction of his poem The Raven:
Regarding then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation-and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones... xiHowever, any excited emotion in the reader might also signify a successful piece of beauty; even if fear is secondary to melancholy. Poe indicates this in his "The Masque of the Red Death" in which he describes the architecture plan of a seven roomed palace, hermetically sealed from a plagued town, each room decorated like a splotch of oil paint upon an artist's palette. This story affected me greatly as I designed the Red Shade. Poe's gothic writing is so fluid as to be more poem than prose, more painting than poem, and he confidently marks the point when he succeeds in making the guests tremble. As the strangely masked, unknown visitor interrupted the party:
...there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise-then, finally, of terror, of horror, and disgust. In an assembly of the phantasms such I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation... xii