Posted by: cboulay | January 30, 2009

for monday, 2/2

Please choose a few lines from Doty to discuss here. Read the other posts first and engage with them (agree, disagree, extend, continue) one of your classmate’s comments. Obviously if you are first to post, you are exempt from this…


  1. “Still Life With Oysters and Lemon” is an extended meditation on painting, the nature of representation, memory and life. Mark Doty makes some insightful commentary on the nature of artistry and forced me to think about still life paintings in a whole new light. One of my favorite passages from the text was on page 10, when Doty asserted that artists require “a worldly lexicon. A language of ideas…” This struck me as interesting because artists do in fact use creativity through their artistic ideas to convey a message. However, I had never thought of it before as a “language of ideas.” Another thing that made me think about was also on page 10, when Doty questioned, “Why should we have been born knowing how to love the world? We require, again and again, these demonstrations.” To me, this eloquently states an artist’s true purpose, and their art are the “demonstrations” that help us know how to “love the world.” Art is not just something for us to look at and appreciate, but it helps us explain the world and make us think outside the box. On page 18, Doty states, “Painting creates silence.” This perfectly and simply points to the awe inspiring effect that art has on its viewers. When I look at painting, just like Doty says, I instantly become silent. Paintings are one of the rare things that can mesmorize the people looking at them. Mark Doty has a very interesting view on art and what it represents to the people looking at them.

  2. This is not a book about a painting. It is enjoyable, poetic, and lovely but it is about Mark Doty and the landscape of his life. I agree with Brad’s description, that art helps us “explain the world.” With Doty’s work we get not only a lyrical response to his question: “Why should we have been born knowing how to love the world?”but also some snapshots of his life. He is far from still, no more static than the quince’s “lemony yellow orpiment.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about a poet’s life more than I think I would enjoy reading solely about a painting, which is what I initially thought was the entire point of the book. I am wondering how the painting will tie into the conclusion or if he’ll still be wandering around, reminiscing. Either way I think he’s fabulous.

    He really struck a chord with his family’s trip to Gatlinburg. I’m from Kentucky and have traveled those windy roads with my family up the mountains. I’ve ridden chair-lifts up to misty summits. My dad bought me a stuffed bear dressed in a tiny t-shirt that reads, i ❤ Gatlinburg. The phrase that stuck with me from this segue was simple: "I want a bear." I understand wanting a bear and I swear he was telling me a story from my childhood, because I’ve definitely worn that sad face from not getting the toy I want.

    Another phrase that resonates with me: "Beert’s is a demonstration of virtuosity so extreme as to be explicable only by means of love: this is a testament of falling in love with light, its endless variation, its subtlety and complexity." I want to fall in love with some craft to that degree of virtuosity. Doesn’t everyone?

  3. The “Still Life With Oysters and Lemon” is a short book about a desired painting. It is the story of how a man fell in love with a painting and how it impacted his life. Throughout the book Doty, the Dutch author, describes his life and his encounter with this lovely painting of “Still Life With Oysters and Lemon”. Like Brad Malach stated in his response, Doty describes his passion for art so insightfully. He says it is like “A language of ideas…”. Certain people use art to describe their emotions and desires; it is often used as a way of letting out feelings. The way Doty describes it, art is a place where one can let out how and what they feel.

  4. Mark Doty does an excellent job of bringing a simple painting to life. At first glance, many would think that there is little thought given to a still-life, but Doty argues that painting a still life is like poetry, and therefore there is meaning behind each of the objects. A still life represents an array of feelings, thoughts, and makes many historical references to the time period in which it was made. I also really enjoyed the passage starting on page ten when Doty shares a small anecdote about his “Mamaw” and connects his memories of her black pocketbook to the composition of the “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.” Writing almost seventy pages on one still life seems like an impossible task, but Doty keeps the reading interesting by including both stories from his past and references to other art that is similar. His writing is descriptive and charming and he supplies the reader with an excellent narrative into the art world.

  5. “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon” is a short book discussing the author’s reaction to a painting he obviously loves and is deeply inspired by. Doty makes an interesting observation comparing lemons to humanity. As he states in his book, lemons somehow remain intimate and ordinary at the same time. He goes on to say “…here our desire to be unique, unmistakable, and our desire to be of a piece [are] reconciled” (9). This is clearly very true of people. We struggle to maintain our individuality even while we attempt to conform so that we may be accepted by others. That Doty managed to relate such normally unrelated things has me baffled.

    Monica Vaks says in an afore posted comment that “people use art to describe their emotions”. I agree with this statement in that Doty is expressing the emotions evoked in him by the painting with his own art in response, and now we are responding in turn with our own emotions and opinions concerning the way he regarded the painting “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon”.

  6. Mark Doty states that “to think through things, that is the still life painter’s work–and the poet’s” (9). Like Sam Schulman says in an earlier post, there is meaning behind the painting, and it represents “an array of feelings, thoughts…”. We often look at still life paintings without truly seeing the meaning behind them, much like how many people fail to see the meaning in poetry; it simply takes a little more effort to uncover. For example, Doty views the lemons in the painting not simply as fruit, but as a commentary on humans’ desire for attention. The way Doty connects aspects of the painting that seem unimportant, to various meanings is interesting and I find it very impressive.

  7. I found a lot of what Doty said in this book to be extremely profound. I find it amazing how much emotion and thought resulted from one artist during one period of time.

    One of my favored passages that I came across was one in which he was discussing the poem: “The Afternoon Sun”

    “But there is something astonishingly poignant about it, too: poised full of acceptance, the adult recognition that things of the world go on without us, that meaning with which we invest them may not persist, may not be visible to no one else, that even that which seems to us most profoundly saturated in passion and feeling may be swept away.” (28)

    This stroke a cord with me because it is so purely honest and there are many instances in which this has applied to my life. And I feel like this is where a lot of the time fear gets introduced into art. The fear of creating and the fear of sharing. Because something that I see that passion in and love and cherish with my being is not always shared with my friends or even a stranger.
    In this same facet time plays a significant factor I know that there are parts in my life that there were things I cherished and now I cant say that I still have those same feelings, nor can I even grasp an understanding of my past self.

    I also did find it interesting the way in which he was able to associate something as simple as a lemon and attribute such fundamental characteristics of life and our humanity to it. That definitely blew my mine and it made me think are there other things that are amongst our daily lives that can bring these same meanings to life? It is crazy how many things in this world can change us for the better or the worse. Finally I feel that this can relate back to my comment because it shows how he was truly impacted by the nature of the lemons in this art work.

  8. I agree with all of you guys, this novel so far is not just about the painting but the evoked feelings expressed by Mark Doty. He has told about many life lessons and understandings which are all rooted from the images in Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.
    I was able to relate to Doty’s explaination of what still life image represent to a specific individual. He relates the stilllife images to the images in the poem”The Afternoon Sun” by Cavafy on pg 28.
    “There must still be around somewhere, those old things” says Cavafy.

    Doty response with “poised, full of acceptance, the adult recogntion that the things of the world go on with out us, that the meaning with which we invest them may no persist, may be visible to no one else, that even that which seems to us most profoundly saturated in passion and feeling may be swept away.”
    After reading this line, I was enlightened by Doty’s expression about simple objects. He is explaining that the oysters and lemons might not evoke the same feelings to Jan Davidsz de Heem, or Doty or me now. I am very interested to continue the novel and wonder how Doty will tie together all these life lessons inspired from the painting

  9. I just looked up and noticed that maxthegirl’s comment uses the same quote I liked most from Doty’s work.

    You captured my feelings perfectly!!!
    Isn’t that poem amazing!

  10. Doty’s sensitive exploration deHeem’s painting has shed new light on a form that has always seemed alien to me- the still life. I’d always assumed that the overcoat-clad metropolitan museum patrons who lingered in rooms dedicated to portraits of 17th century Northern European nobility and technically skilled depictions of fruit were either feigning interest or were, in secret, utterly baffled. I’m usually one to walk briskly through those sections and seek out the newer installation pieces and controversial conceptual works.

    Instead, Doty’s colorful and lucid prose has convinced me of the virtues of this archaic form and its almost ontological exploration of objects and what they mean when stylized in art. He is able to render the piece more accessible, making the unlikely connection to his upbringing in East Tennessee, implicitly making a statement about the relationship between the aesthetics of art and the passage of time. He states:

    “The brink upon which still life
    rests is the brink of time, the edge of something about to happen.” (18)

    I would disagree with Jennifer DeMoss’s comment about the book not being about art but about Mark Doty’s personal experiences. I think the strength of the work lies in his ability to force the reader to relate the work to themselves. He achieves this by using some personal examples, although I don’t believe that his analysis is exclusively autobiographical, since he does engage in obtuse historical theorizing.

  11. Mark Doty seems to find paintings to be like wine, they get better with age. With that wine, a few bugs, some dust, along with the passion the winemaker had while making the bottle creates a masterpiece that seemed to only grow more excellent with time. He states early into the book on page 10 of his Mamaw’s peppermint candies have “…the life of the spiral, it seems to whirl even when it’s at rest.” An artist may confirm he is completed with a particular piece, but it is never completed. The whirling spiral of time continues to evolve the painting, adding something new to it while offering something new to it’s viewers.
    On page 17, Doty explains his fascination with Beert’s painting because it was “…never restored there is a heightened poignace to it somehow; it doesn’t have the feeling of unassailable permanence that paintings in museums do.” This reminds me of the discussion we had in class last week of Vermir’s paintings. They have become very expensive, and we questioned why that’s the case. Maybe, from reading this passage by Doty, it has to do with the fact of it’s restoration, like one has taken a step back into time to look over the shoulder of the artist just as he painted it. No one wants to see an old painting that’s chipping or it’s colors are turning.
    Doty enjoys paintings with life in them, where their voice crackles and becomes feeble just as a human’s voice. A painting that you’re able to sit down with and share stories, something he so far seems to be doing in “Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.”

  12. Oh no, WordPress deleted all of my tabs and stuff and turned it into a wall of text. 😦 sorry guys!

  13. Although Doty wrote “Still Life with Oysters and Lemons” to be a short book in which he elaborated on a painting, it becomes so much more than that. He delves into subjects that ordinarily would never be connected to a still life painting, or any art form for that matter. He personifies every aspect of the painting as he relates it to aspects of his life, such as the people he has met or the places he has seen. His descriptive language is unlike any I have encountered before, especially when he talks about the portrait as an art form. He writes, “Portraits often seem pregnant with speech, or as if their subjects have just finished saying something, or will soon speak thoughts that inform their faces, the thoughts we’re invited to read.” Although this is not describing the still life the book is about, the language Doty uses to give life to a portrait resembles the accuracy in description he gives to all he writes about. He makes the portrait jump off of the page; he makes it breathe, which is how he feels about the still life, the lemons and the oysters resonate with him.
    I agree with Brad’s statement that art is definitely not just something to look at. And through Doty’s writings, it is clear that he believes there is much more to art than meets the eye; he believes it has life and emotion. As Samantha points out, a still life represents “feelings and thoughts” and is basically like a painted poem.

  14. Mark Doty’s “Still Life With Oysters and Lemon” is a book where he writes about art and it’s meaning in humanity. there was some point that I thought that he was overly descriptive but he does bring up some very good point. On page 6, where Doty write about how intimacy is the highest value, I did resist the idea, at first just like him. This idea slowly sank in and I would have to agree with it as well. So if intimacy is so highly valued, Doty does bring up a very good pont. Why do we flee from it?
    “On one side of the balance is the need for home, for the deep solid roots of place and belonging: on the other is the desire for travel and motion, for the single separate spark of the self freely moving forward…”
    I think that the reason we flee from intimacy because of the stuggle between what the individual want and what the family want from the individual. Intimacy seems to be about feeling familiar and so that brings up the conflict between being free, trying new things and that familiarity.

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