I’m pretty sure we all have our favourite pieces of art, regardless of the artistic manifestation they represent, who have greatly influenced one or more aspects of our life. Be it a book that changed our perception of reality, or a painting that made us question its aesthetic value or even a melody that always comes to mind, art resides at the core of the human experience. Art creates dialogues and bursts emotions, bores ideas and can be both devastating and illuminating. But how many of us have questioned the reality behind a particular art piece?
How many of us have taken their gaze off a book and rather looked its creator straight into its eyes, just to realize we may have been sold a beautifully written fairy-tale? What will one do should their favourite creator or artist prove to have its own facade outside the imaginary world he emerged himself into?
This is the powerful stance books of letters usually take and I will present to you some of my favourite letters from artists and people dear to my heart which made me realise that man and art can have a separate identity. That brought me closer to whom they were as people of their own time as books of letters are the supreme connection one can establish with their favourite person of the past.
So Bright and Delicate: Love Letters of John Keats to Fanny Browne – John Keats (Penguin Black Classics)
Few poets have fascinated me as much as John Keats, one of the most important romantic poets Britain has ever bestowed upon us. However, I always wondered what or who made his music sound so profound, thus I began my almost obscene journey into Keats’ life, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter;” echoing constantly in the back of my mind.
Soon enough I found So Bright and Delicate: Love Letters of John Keats to Fanny Browne, a collection of letters exchanged between Keats and his lover. Unfortunately for us, the book presents only Keats’s letters, Fanny’s replies having been lost. From his words, one can feel the ardent love and desire he held for his Endymion, his regret for not being rich enough to marry her and the constant fear of not being good and proper enough for her “Upon my soul, I cannot see what you would like me for.”
In respect to his poems, we can read some verses he dedicated to Fanny, his impression of art and the anxiousness produced by his critics. His perception of love as absolute beauty and beauty as life eternal makes us understand the correlation of the artistic spiritum with the ephemeral being and how they collide creating a beautiful, everlasting melody.
The Diary of a Young Girl-Anne Frank
The second book of letters I think everybody should read at least once in their life is most definitely Anne Frank’s book, The Diary of a Young Girl. I put this particular book here, for it is a very important piece of history and for the delicate way Anne addresses her little `letters` to not only the imaginary being Kitty, but to the possible saviour or audience that shall come across her manuscript. Even though the book is not necessarily a book of letters per se, this particular writing is of utmost importance to everyone, regardless of age or any other denominator, for it presents to us the struggles of Jews during the war.
I recommend you read the definitive edition of the book, as it presents to us every little detail about the turmoil she had, from discovering her sexuality to the fear of death, what she liked and what she disliked, the world she saw through her own lenses. As I have stated before, this book’s importance resides not only in the content but also in the legacy it brought along with itself. That being said, we shall follow Miss Frank’s advice and understand that “What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again” and one can only do that through keeping her history alive.
Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
We depart a little bit from the world of writers and go into another medium, that of painting. However, do not be fooled, we are still reading about people, about their struggles and loves, which we could or could not relate to. That is the case with the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, a substantial corpus of more than 800 letters compiled by the painter’s brother, Theodorus van Gogh (Theo).
A lot of the letters are addressed to Theo himself and they talk about the painting experience, different masterpieces of van Gogh like the Potato Eaters, artists which he met on his trips, which inspired him and so on. Apart from that, the descriptions of the places he visits are quite picturesque and make one dream along at the Parisian suburbia or the industrial London through the sentiment of the young painter.
But what strikes the most in this book of letters is in my opinion, the description of the mental struggles he had, how sometimes he was
grim and how the world seemed devoid, how he freed his demons and how his creative insanity drove him mad sometimes. This book’s effervescence and vivacity are something that can trigger its readers from time to time, and I advise you to be aware of the heaviness it sometimes carries. Although, however grim (but elegant too) this book should most definitely be on your TBR list.