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Picturing a World

Into another wood

In reply to a question from Haruki Murakami about conducting Mahler, Seiji Ozawa says in a November 5th interview in the Guardian that when he "first saw the work of Klimt and Egon Schiele, they came as a real shock to me. Since then, I’ve made it a point to go to art museums. When you look at the art of the time, you understand something about the music. Take Mahler’s music: it comes from the breakdown of traditional German music. You get a real sense of that breakdown from the art, and you can tell it was not some half-baked thing.”

No question, when artists explore each other's disciplines, their work grows. For historical novelists, the arts of a period—both fine art and popular culture—are vital to imagining what our characters think and feel and know.

Only twenty-two years separate Klimt’s birch forest from Harrison’s Novembre of the previous post, yet they clearly belong to two different centuries, two different sets of concerns. They inform totally different stories. For me, the wistfulness of Novembre fits with the sensibility and experience of my artist character, Jeanette, in Where the Light Falls. Klimt might have been too avant-garde for her sister Mattie in the New York of 1908; but then again Mattie’s experience might just prepare her to “get it.” I’ll have to think about that.
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