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Book 1, Chapter 3 takes us back to the little Jersey cottage, because I know you were dying to see what Galbraith and Tompson were up to. In agonizing detail.

The topic of conversation, of course, is art, and these sessions are useful for both Galbraith, since it gives him a chance to hold forth on a topic that is still the pole star of his life, and Tompson, who not only has a keen interest in the arts but is grateful to be in a situation where he only has to be a sounding board. They met in college, drawn together by a love of art, then found each other again in Europe, where Galbraith's connections opened many doors for least the ones where simply being a man of means would not.

The launching point is a quote from Goethe: “Fortunate is he who at an early age knows what Art is.”

“Yes, I remember it well,” he replied at last, “and it is an sentence implying much. It would be interesting to know just what ground Goethe meant to cover by that remark.” Having rolled his cigarette to his satisfaction and lighted it, he took a seat near Galbraith, who was half reclining in a cushioned chair, which had been placed so that his gaze could fall easily upon the burning logs as well as upon the miscellaneous books and papers strewn over the center-table.

“The art of which Goethe spoke would extend, you may be sure, to many things believed to lie outside of art. The general view of art is so very narrow, you must remember—sickeningly so, born of obtuseness and ignorance. Think, for instance, of how long the opinion has prevailed, and among people highly educated concerning other matters, that art is to be found nowhere but in Europe. Think of the absurdity: that art is the product only of the most rich and civilized nations; a thing born and bred solely beneath academical influences.” Galbraith rose to a sitting posture as he spoke; a fine fire of enthusiasm commenced to show itself upon his splendidly-shaped, impressive face. “It was a desire, no doubt,” he continued, “to correct this superficial view of a deep, far-reaching subject, that prompted Goethe to pen that sentence I have just quoted.”

“Well, yes,” replied Tompson, “no doubt that was his desire; but it is difficult to induce people to take so broad a view of any subject, especially when they have concentrated all their mental powers upon one side of the question—and you know it is generally one side of it only that can be seen or understood by them.”

“There,” said Galbraith, rising from his chair and standing above Tompson--”there is just the point I have been thinking of in connection with my own case. The younger artists and art critics here in New York censure me because, as they say, I insist too much on knowledge. Many of them seem to think a color-box and brushes are all that are necessary to make a painter. They contend that most of the great geniuses of art cared very little for knowledge, and did little to acquire it.”

“But is that true?” asked Tompson.

“No, of course it is not true, not in the sense these men mean it. To accept it is true is to destroy every chance of getting fine work done. [...](pp. 50-2)

And so we march on into a lengthy, especially stiff dialogue exchange/lecture which I anticipate is here mainly to prove the two men's artistic bona-fides. So you'll hopefully forgive me if I render it into a tincture of the original.

Basically, Galbraith's hobby-horse at the moment is a need for a truly American art, the way Emerson argued for an American-born religion (and no, I don't think he meant Mormonism), and if American artists are to be recognized as distinct from the European masters, instead of poor copies of them, they need to stop riding Europe's jock so hard and keep their inspirations and sense of identity tied to the home country. He recognizes that it's going to be a chore, however, since the continent is so damn awesome.

“But is it not very difficult for a man, who has received all his technique in either Paris or Munich, and has at the same time acquired a French or German point of view, to get again into sympathy with things purely American, and to give to them the native touch?”

“Of course it is difficult,” replied Galbraith, “possibly the most difficult thing any generation of artists was ever called upon to do. Educated in the capitals of Europe where art influences are dominant, it is natural that our young men should look upon life here as a kind of exile. Most of them have so surrendered their imaginations to the pictorial effects everywhere to be found in Europe, that the love of their own country has been very nearly effaced from their hearts. When they come back to America they can see nothing but the esthetic barrenness of our people, and the paucity of our art treasures. Some of them go so far as to insist that our wonderful American scenery is devoid of artistic effects.”

“But so long as our young men cannot get in this country just the kind of training and influences that combine to fit an artist thoroughly for his work, what is to be done about it?” asked Tompson, laying down the book which had attracted him, in order to look at Galbraith while he talked.

“It seems to me,” said Galbraith, “that there is only one solution of this problem which is puzzling every one deeply interested in American art. The young artist while studying abroad should strive never to lose sight of the fact that he is an American and that his future is to be wholly identified with American art. This is difficult, as you say; only the men who have fought this fight know how difficult—but it is the only way to protect the American artist's sympathies from becoming biased by his foreign experiences.” (pp. 59-60)

Biases like telling a young man that he can't expect to get a proper art education in America? Walt Whitman would kick your ass if he heard you talking like that, Galbraith. He'd sing the body electric as he did it, too, because the beating he gave you would contain multitudes. (Insert a few lines of "O Captain, My Captain!" over a scene of Tarantino-style violence, just to beat the joke into the ground.)

Something that stuck in my throat about this passage--and the whole exchange, really--is that like a lot of visionaries (and politicians, for that matter), his grand vision is communicated in sweeping generalities. It's a grand vista, to be sure, but when Galbraith talks about “the American touch” in art, the readers aren't given a home base regarding what the American touch would mean to him as an artist, except that if you put something in front of him—Tompson holds up a book of photographs that fit the bill, for instance—he could say “yes” or “no”. We're left to assume that if his brilliant career hadn't ground to a halt, he would've been able to show us what his concept of Americanism in art would look like, instead of just running through his position statement.

At the risk of repeating myself, we also have an unfair advantage over Galbraith of knowing that the coming century would be overloaded with the American touch. I doubt Galbraith, as a conservative impressionist, would be entirely happy with how that concept manifested itself over the next hundred years. Warhol and Lichtenstein would probably make his head explode.

Tompson also mentions in passing a Mr. Chase—he made a big impression with the American students the two friends ran into in Europe, but didn't actually make Galbraith's acquaintance until his New York period—had commented favorably on one of Galbraith's article in the Art Review (which shows that Galbraith can scrape together an article, just not often enough to keep bread on the table). It's a bittersweet ego stroke when Tompson continues with Chase's contention that if he had been able to stick with his art Galbraith would've cast a long shadow over the American art scene.

And oh, I just can't help myself...this snippet was too good to keep.

Tompson had always liked the pleasant things of life, and Alexander Galbraith represented them to him in one form. For this reason, chiefly, had Tompson followed up and maintained his friendship with Galbraith. The same inclinations made him a regular visitor at the Galbraith cottage, for, though very simple, its arrangement and furnishings were a kind to please an esthetic eye. Every piece of furniture, every rug, every bit of china, every print upon the wall, thought inexpensive, had been chosen for some artistic reason, and were so placed as entirely to satisfy an artistic taste. With Helen as mistress of this delightfully arranged retreat, and with Galbraith there as a sort of dying prophet, speaking burning, vital words upon his beloved theme of art, Tompson's visits to the cottage gave him an exquisite sense of pleasure, and always brought to his observation something of new and personal interest. (pp. 57-8, my emphasis)

Hell, he already has a crown of thorns, why not put a glowing, bedazzled halo on him as well?

Finally (finally!(!!!)), Helen returns from her distasteful errand in the city and the mood of the room brightens...but only for a moment. Although Tompson doesn't ask, he knows these people well enough to pick up at least a whiff of the plot. He recognizes there's a strain in the household and feels certain it's over money, but Tompson, though wealthy, isn't the type who would open his wallet without being asked first. After some idle flattery, Galbraith notices his wife is somewhat out of sorts. “For some moments she sat looking into the fire, her thoughts evidently busy with some serious matter, while Galbraith and Tompson referred again to their conversation of the afternoon, closing it with a few inconsequent remarks.” They eat a small supper in silence with “an unexpressed sense of depression” before Tompson excuses himself to leave...and get bad ideas. Very special, very twisty, and yet very familiar bad ideas.

If any outsider, he reflected, was to take a hand in her affairs, he unquestionably was the man to do so, both by right of his long and intimate friendship with Galbraith, and by that higher right which his love for Helen gave him. Tompson knew full well how Helen loved Galbraith, and up to this time he had always respected her love and her position. Next to Galbraith, however he was determined to stand; and whoever else should aspire to that place would have to contest it with him. By the time he reached the railway station these thoughts had become very clearly defined in his mind, and because he was a man who made no confidences, but lived shut in by his own quiet reserve, they were much more likely to become thoughts fraught with a dangerous power of execution, should the necessity for action ever arise. Thus it came about that without any real intention of malice, influenced solely by the dictates of his selfish love, Tompson, utterly unconscious of overstepping the proprieties of true gentlemanly conduct, set himself to the task, if not of watching Helen Galbraith, at least, of informing himself, without her consent, about her personal matters. Unjustifiable as such a course is, it need not have been a necessarily dangerous one to pursue, except for the fact that Tompson had allowed himself to become so deeply interested in Helen that he had, at times, even permitted himself to speculate upon the consequences of Alex's death. However, it must be admitted, at such times he had always called himself up with a halt, never allowing his imagination to run away with his common-sense. (pp. 67-8)

So is it “dying prophet” or “hurry up and die, you prophet”? Make up your mind, already. Either way, it's safe to say that we've found the city limits of Friendshipville (population: Andrew Tompson). “I really like my friend, but sometimes I wish he was dead so I could hook up with his wife...the one who doesn't seem to like me. Maybe if I follow her around the next time I see her in town, I'll find out something that'll make him drop dead! That's be great! I mean sad! Aw hell, I need to buy a notebook for these brilliant ideas...”

Now that the Galbraiths were finally alone, Helen felt free to break down into bitter sobs from the strain of her day's adventure. Alex, who knows when not to push his lady love, keeps the questions to a minimum, extracting a promise that she'll tell him all about it tomorrow.

A certain fear, an undefined premonition of many things to come, swept through her at the recollection of Westmore and of his manner to her. She shrank from revealing this to Alex; it was the first thing affecting her deeply that she had ever kept from him. Late at night, when her tears had spent themselves, she fell asleep, troubled and restless, her arms clasped tightly about Alex's neck. In her dreams she called his name frequently, and clung to him, as if for protection; and no woman, tossing in a disturbed sleep, was ever guarded by a greater and a tenderer love than that which watched that night over her. (p. 70)

Next: Off to work, where she'll really find something to cry about, I'm sure...


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