Monday, July 06, 2020

'With a Detached Unbiased Outlook'

Most of us feel the urge to respond to what happens around us, even when events are distant and with little or no immediate impact. We’re human. We feel for our kind. Carried to an extreme this can make us extraordinarily tiresome. Even before Twitter we all knew loud mouths in amplified op-ed mode, sharing precious insights. In contrast, some of us focus, understanding that the world will get along just fine (or not) without our assistance. Here is the American painter Charles Burchfield writing in his journal on this date July 6, in a year even more desperate than our own, 1940:     

“In Studio most of day – playing my collection of Jazz records, enjoying the reminiscences they evoked. I think the mental devastation caused by the war is about at an end — and now the inactivity and emotional joy I allowed myself to sink into seems unnecessary & rather futile. Perhaps it was unavoidable, but now, more than at any time, it is urgent that an artist do his work unrestrainedly, and with a detached unbiased outlook."

Two weeks earlier, France had fallen. Within days, the Battle of Britain would begin. Hitler controlled most of Europe. Soviet troops occupied the Baltics, eastern Poland, and Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia in Romania. Japan had moved on French Indochina. Pearl Harbor was still seventeen months in the future. It was a good year for jazz, perhaps Duke Ellington’s finest: “Concerto for Cootie,” “Cotton Tail,” “Ko-Ko,” “Sepia Panorama,” “Harlem Air-Shaft,” “In a Mellotone,” “Warm Valley.” This was the great Blanton-Webster band. I don’t know what records Burchfield was listening to but Ellington was “do[ing] his work unrestrainedly, and with a detached unbiased outlook.”

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