Artists on Diaries
Bernarda Bryson Shahn lived nearly two more years after writing this feisty diary entry in 2002. Her life and that of her late husband’s, Ben Shahn, were inextricably woven into the rich history of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in rural Maine.
In Charles Green Shaw’s diary from 1963–64 in the exhibit, A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art, the artist records detailed but succinct accounts of events throughout the day. These short declarative sentences state the time at which he awoke in the morning, what he read, whom he saw and what work he accomplished in the studio.
In his 1946 diary, Joseph Cornell utilized an advertisement for a bedside lamp that he’d clipped from a publication to evoke the night of dreams he’d had the previous evening (May 16th). The way he communicated the intensity of the dreams, and the sense of the day that followed, underscore the fact that all his experiences were interwoven into his work.
In the previous blog post of this series, Sarah Schmerler described how her friend Martin Wilner’s work inspired a series of drawings made while riding the New York City Subway. When I asked Wilner to tell us more about his projects, he began by citing Henry Mosler’s diary, on view in the exhibition A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn’s appointment book in the show A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art, is filled with events. None of the entries are simple reminders of upcoming appointments—nearly every word in the book is adorned, embellished, or festooned in some manner.
Although some artists I’ve spoken to recently do keep proper diaries, most have found other diary-like activities that document their joys, concerns, interests and goings-on. For many, posting updates on social media satisfies that need.
Joseph Cornell found beauty in everyday life and everyday objects. His diary entry from July 10, 1948 helps us understand how his incredible outlook enabled him to make the elegant artwork he constructed from bits and pieces of the prosaic.
One of my favorite images from A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art, is Helen Torr Dove and Arthur Dove’s diary from 1936. Dove made colored spheres which may signify the phases of the moon, and also noted the temperature and barometric pressure the Doves were experiencing.