Isaac Bashevis Singer vs. Marc Chagall
Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate in literature who wrote in Yiddish, is my favorite author. In 1975, taking a break from my regular work as a journalist who specialized in business, I wrote profiles about him that were published in the New York Times Magazine and the now-defunct Harper's Bookletter.
As I disclosed in my previous blog post, I am now preparing to move from my home in New Jersey, where I have lived for nearly 25 years, to become a year-round resident of Florida. This involves the painful need to explore and discard decades of files no longer needed.
Among my discoveries were voluminous notes of my interviews with Singer in his Manhattan apartment. In the course of the interviews, I told Singer that he had always struck me as being a literary counterpart of painter Marc Chagall, who like Singer was an East European Jew, rendering in print what Chagall had done in paint.
Like Singer, I said, Chagall concentrated on his own "shtetl" (Jewish village) background for material. And in Chagall's surrealistic paintings--the fiddler on the roof always comes to mind--I told Singer that I find the same enchanting mystical quality that I enjoy in his novels and short stories.
Singer was not complimented by my comparison. A close friend of famed painter Raphael Soyer and others in the New York art world of that era, Singer regarded himself as something of a maven on painting.
For reasons I cannot recall, Singer's colorful response to my comparison failed to appear in my old articles. I now find it so provocative that I am belatedly publishing it here in my blog.
"I'll tell you the truth," Singer said to me in his Yiddish-accented English, "I'm not too hot about him. As far as I can see, Chagall is an artist who repeats himself already for 50 years. I don't admire him as much as I admire a Cezanne or a Monet.
"I don't think that when you paint a man, and you put him with the head down and the legs up, that you accomplish something, that this is real originality. Anybody can do it. [Chagall] has a feeling for color, but he's not really dabbling with the supernatural. He is stylizing all his life, and there is a limit to stylizing."
So much for the great Chagall, as the equally great Isaac Bashevis Singer evaluated the painter's work.