Friday, August 15, 2014

two world wars in four decades

------------------------------ [excerpt from Nina Burleigh's book about Mary Pinchot Meyer] ------------------ Schwartz saw his girlfriend as "militantly wholesome, not wild" like the half-sister she had so admired.  She had a seriousness and a questing nature.  To Schwartz she was "profound," a young woman who was thinking about higher questions, the meaning of love, life, war, and death.  "There was no crap to her," he recalled.  "She was not light."

In thinking about the higher questions, in 1943 she was not alone. 

Two world wars in four decades had scratched hope and scrambled belief. 

Young men were dying.  The world was a dreary place.  Questions about meaning were becoming popular.  In 1942 Albert Camus published The Stranger, and a year later Jean-Paul Sartre published Being and Nothingness, introducing nonacademic readers to the notion of existentialism. 

In the visual arts, there was a great energy emanating from the Museum of Modern Art and a group of New York artists developing the abstract style. 

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian had emigrated from Holland in 1942, followed by other European émigrés, including Josef Albers, Hans Hofmann,

and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who revitalized the abstract style.  The world war was much on their minds, and to express the underside of human existence, these artists turned to Jung and his theories of archetypes and dreams.

The first abstract paintings had relied on enigmatic images from mythology and dream states.  By the late 1940s and early 1950s the forms gave way to the splashes and splatters and lines for which abstract expressionism is known.

Mary was always more interested in relationships and the ethics of human behavior than in politics.  Schwartz thought her interest in art was part of an aesthetic continuum that started with her interest in relationships and psychology. 

Schwartz recalled that Mary's mother, Ruth, was deeply involved in politics, but that Mary was less so.  "Politically she was beyond leftist," Schwartz said of Mary.  "She was concerned with the ethics and aesthetics of life.  She was concerned about what was proper not in the sense of manners but in the larger sense of what it meant to be a human being." 

Mary was so serious about these questions that Schwartz could not joke with her about them for fear of arousing her anger.  "She would say, 'Why are we really here?'  And I'd say, 'I don't know, I'm from Ohio.'  And she would not have any of that.  She required that we be serious about being serious."

{excerpt:  A Very Private Woman, by Nina Burleigh.  Bantam.  1998.}


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