Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Few of My Ears; Or, The Ear in Literature and Art

Tobacco Brown
Adam Farmer
Bienvenido Howard Romero
 I was thinking today about the concept of ears. I first really thought about the ear when I read A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. The protagonist of the novel is fascinated by the beauty of a woman's ear:
                    She was twenty-one, with an attractive slender body and a pair of the most bewitching, perfectly formed ears. She was a part-time proofreader for a small publishing house, a commercial model specializing in ear shots, and a call girl in a discreet intimate-friends-only club... Nonetheless,  sizing  up her essential attributes, I would have to say her natural gifts ran to ear modeling. She agreed. Which was well and good until you considered how extremely limited are the opportunities for a  commercial ear model, how abysmal the status and pay.

There's more, of course.
Mary Jo Karimnia
 Until I read that, I never thought much about what ears look like. I considered them basically utilitarian, and avoided drawing or painting them in detail as much as possible. This decision to ignore the ear was driven, I admit, by the difficulty of painting an ear that recognizably belongs to the subject.

 After A Wild Sheep Chase, I found I could no longer ignore the appearance of a person's ear when making a portrait. I don't know if you have ever really looked at a person's ear, and at people's ears in general, but if you do, I think you'll be surprised by the variation you find.

 Another reason I thought of ears today is because I was thinking of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, which it seems I am always thinking about. In that book, the main character, Cincinnatus, writes to his wife: "I want to write this in such a way that you will cover your ears, your membranaceous, simian ears that you hide under strands of beautiful feminine hair-- but I know them,I see them, I pinch them, the cold little things, I worry them with my fingers to somehow warm them, bring them to life, make them human, force them to hear me."
David Hall
 In the world of Invitation, the only person capable of understanding art, beauty, or truth is Cincinnatus. Some readers may think that this is a sad commentary on the world we live in. However, Nabokov gives us a great clue to interpreting the novel when, in his Lectures on Literature, he says to his class (these are his actual lecture notes in a college-level course):

                             The work with this group has been a particularly pleasant association between the 
                             fountain of my voice and a garden of ears -- some open, others closed, many very receptive, 
                             a few merely ornamental, but all of them human and divine.
 Therefore, according to Nabokov, we do not live in the world of Invitation; we do live among human beings. All of his students, even those who were not listening to him as he lectured, have ears which are human, and have the ability to hear and understand something of the divine.

Meghan Vaziri
 As an artist, since I was very young, I was always obsessed with the way eyes look. That makes sense, I think, because I was interested in understanding beauty through the eye.

Eye from a high school self-portrait

Joel Parsons
Using the same logic, I think it makes sense for a writer to love ears, to love looking at them, to love depicting them with words, since the written word can, after all, be taken in through the ears. I wonder what else this can be extended to. Are perfumers very interested in looking at noses?

Lester Merriweather
 Here are some of the ears I have painted. I am working on a new portrait with a really interesting ear.
The holidays are coming up, so if you would like me to paint a portrait of someone (and that someone's ear) to give as a gift, call me (901) 246-4250 or email me soon at .

David Moore
What do you think? Do you like eyes or ears (or noses) better?

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