The Homely Protestant

October 19, 2017

Robert Motherwell, The Homely Protestant

I love Robert Motherwell because of his smarts. While so many of his (male) contemporaries were making fools of themselves in bars, he was making poetic work – about poetry – and other big themes, and writing intelligently about it too. I read the wall text for this painting at the Met and was reminded again of why I love him.

To paraphrase, Motherwell was struggling with naming this painting, and finally remembered a Surrealist technique of engaging with chance. He opened a book (Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce), blindly pointed his finger at the text, and upon opening his eyes, saw that his finger was resting on the phrase “the homely protestant”. “Of course!” Motherwell said. “It is a self-portrait”.

It’s amusing to me to imagine the emphasis on different words. Of course, it is a self-portrait. Of course, it is a self-portrait.

Interesting musical footnote #1:

I believe the Beatles used this same technique for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, but they did it the other way around by choosing the phrase first, and constructing the song around it.

Interesting musical footnote #2:

I just learned that Motherwell was from Aberdeen, Washington. Safe to say that he was the most famous native until Kurt Cobain came along?

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