introducing readers to writers since 1995

January 26, 2005

Translation: "Pictures of the Floating World"

by Ron Hogan

M.J. Rose has a blog devoted entirely to guest stars; Backstory features writers sharing the secrets behind the origins of their books. Her most recent guest is Nina Schuyler, who you might remember as one of my holiday visitors. Inspiration for The Painting came when the woman who was teaching Schuyler to speak Japanese introduced her to ukiyo-e:

"As I drove home, I was struck by the image of colorful paintings flying through the air from East to West. Over the next weeks, I found myself thinking about these paintings, broadly, in history, and I couldn’t shake the questions: what is the purpose of beauty? The purpose of art? What if the world was knit together by beauty?

"I went to the library and found more ukiyo-e and read about the French artists whom were profoundly affected by this work (Manet, Degas, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Van Gough, to name a few). I did not know the story yet; I had a curiosity. As I looked at a painting of a woman sweeping the porch-- a very ordinary scene made extraordinary by color, by attention to detail-- I wondered, what if a painting ended up in Paris, not with an artist, but someone who had no affinity for beauty?"

Sounds like she and Whitney Otto would have a fascinating conversation over tea.

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