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front porch What happens when one person looks at the art of another? James Henry Hammond , an ambitious planter-politician of antebellum South Carolina, got one very depressing answer in 1 841 when he threw open his dazzling new house to a select circle of Columbia's most cultivated gentlemen. Hammond later gained immortality by coining the phrase "Cotton is King," but his biographers mostly agree that he was not an easy man to love. Though everybody said he was brilliant , it seems that Hammond was also a snob and an egotist who could never get quite enough adulation to satisfy him. During a lengthy trip to Italy, Hammond had spent much time and a small fortune cultivating his artistic taste and amassing a representative collection offine paintings to prove it. The housewarming in Columbia was intended to show off his acquirements to an admiring elite, and Hammond looked forward to hearing their excited murmurs and knowing compliments as each new treasure came into view. above: Students contemplateJohn Singleton Copley's Sir William Pepperrell and His Family at the North Carolina Museum ofArt in 19/8. Photo courtesy ofthe North Carolina Museum ofArt. It didn't work. "As usual I was wholly disappointed in any litde expectations I might have had that there would be any enjoyment," Hammond wailed to his diary. As often happened, he came away feeling bitterly unappreciated and decided that the South Carolina gentry had no more taste for great paintings than the "savages" they despised. "They gazed at them with the apathy of Indians," he groaned. Showing offvirtu to people like that was like "throwing pearls to swine." To crown it all, the stone-faced dinner guests didn't even like the new house much, either. Disgusted, Hammond gave up trying to make a splash in the art world and went back to politics, but he never got over his disappointment that his fellow southerners seemed to have no respect for connoisseurship. ifthat's really what happened. Like the Native Americans the host compared them to, the guests may well have had their own ideas about art, but just got tired of tellingJames Henry Hammond how wonderful he was. Until someone finds theirdiaries, we'll just have to speculate. Fortunately for all of us, the guests visiting in this issue of Southern Cultures are not nearly so reticent. In one way or another, most of the contributors to this issue are sharing their reactions to works ofart or exploring the reactions ofothers . It's a new departure for us at Southern Cultures because we're including fiction for the first time. We won't always do this, but we hope you like a change now and then. Whatever you think, don't be like James Henry Hammond's guests. Tell us what you think, and we promise not to be offended. The North Carolina Museum ofArt is too polite to fish for compliments, but the folks over there also had a special showing last year for a select group of guests. They invited forty-five North Carolina writers to come to the museum and write something in response to a painting of their choice. The result is a sparkling collection of poems, stories, essays, and reminiscences that shows off the impressive variety of responses that can occur when talented artists interact with someone else's art. The whole collection of responses (together with color reproductions of the paintings that inspired them) will be published this fall by John F. Blair, Publisher. As a special preview showing, readers oĆ­Southern Cultures can sample this collection in advance, and the offerings are tempting indeed. Allan Gurganus begins with the story of what happened to David when he killed Goliath, andJames Applewhite explores what it feels like to pull a calffrom its mother. David Sedaris remembers the museum experience itself, and what happened in his childhood when a wise-crackingJewish docent tried to explain Baroque Catholic altarpieces to pious Protestant schoolchildren. Robert Morgan remembers how he came to be a writer, and why a special picture by Thomas Hart Benton reminds him ofthe experience. Doris Betts concludes with her own reflections about artistic realism. "Those of us who...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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