There used to be a bookstore maybe twenty miles from me called Daedalus Books that sold publishers remainders or overstock at good prices. They always had an unusual selection in stock, lots of art and drama and philosophy and other subjects that are tucked away in the back of larger bookstores (if there are any left). Sadly, the Daedalus physical store has morphed into an online version, as so many have.
Years ago, not sure of the numbers, but probably more than some and less than many, I purchased a book there called The Flow of Art. I didn’t look at it then, expecting to peruse at leisure, but it sounded like a book on the philosophy of art, or the mechanisms of art, or something equally esoteric. My perusal was delayed until this year, when I finally rescued it from the bottom shelf of a bookcase.
As it turned out, it was neither philosophy or how-to, but a compilation of art reviews by critic Henry McBride from his lofty position as the art critic for the New York Sun newspaper from the turn of the Twentieth century onward. Fortunately, Mr. McBride had the opportunity to observe some of the most compelling and exciting art and artists that century produced. Some of them I have heard of: Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Rodin, and so forth. Many others are new to me, and will provide many fine hours of research and appreciation.
McBride’s contemporaneous viewpoint is fascinating, and his intimate engagement with both art and artist (and other critics) is enlightening and entertaining. But what astonishes me most in these pieces is the quality of the prose.
Voice is the rarest of qualities in a writer. You can be a great writer without it (Shakespeare had it, Marlowe didn’t; Woolf had it, Joyce didn’t, and so on), but you have to work much harder.
McBride’s prose has voice, unique and simple and full of good humor regarding the world he reports on and the reporter himself. He invites us all into this remarkable world with such ease and pleasure, as thought he were sharing a thought over an espresso (probably in a café with Stein and Cezanne in the background).
If you have the chance to join him for a cup or two, I highly recommend it.