Was out of town over the weekend, and had the chance to spend an hour in a secondhand English-language bookshop. Picked up a bunch of books, including this one -- a 50+ year old paperback on painting. (Because, you see, I know very little about painting. I took an art history course years ago, and I guess I have a layman's knowledge of the major schools, but that's about it.)
Anyway! This book, out of print for fifty years, turned out to be a little gem. It's full of all sorts of good discussion, pitched right about at my level -- to the reader who knows who Goya and Giotto are, but who doesn't paint and knows almost nothing about the actualy craft of painting.
Here's one thing I discovered: traditional artists studios faced north, because the artists did not want to paint with different slants of light coming in the window at different times and seasons. Makes perfect sense, right?
But -- northern light is blue. So painters would cover the walls of their studios with red and orange hangings and tapestries, in order to warm the light. So apparently (I have yet to check this), in many paintings up until the middle of the 19th century, the light is somewhat blue but the shadows are somewhat reddish or brownish.
Further. Up until around 1840, the vast majority of paintings were done indoors, usually in those studios. Why? Because portable oil paints didn't exist yet. Paints were still mixed by hand. Almost every painter had to be a paintmaker as well, and had to start with lumps and powders and turn them into paints shortly before beginning to work. (The exception was watercolors, which is why most outdoor scenes before then were watercolors.) So even when a painter was doing an outdoor scene, he'd often be working from memory, in his studio. Apparently some painters would go so far as to take rocks or other outdoor items into the studio in order to have them convenient as models.
But around 1840, the first containers of portable oil paint appeared -- the squeezable tubes that we think of today when we think of artists' paint. And one consequence of that was an explosion of outdoor painting. And outdoors, the light is often yellow or orange, while the shadows are likely to be bluish. Apparently this took a lot of getting used to. But it's one of the things that, a bit later, would distinguish the Impressionists: not only were they doing weird stuff with their brushstrokes, but the colors were all different.
The book also introduced me for the first time to Hans van Meegeren, arguably the 20th century's greatest forger of paintings. I had never heard of him before. Now I have, and I feel I am a better person for it.
Slightly relevant: I've been reading about the anthropology of color terms. If you've never heard of this, here's the short version: back in 1969, a couple of linguistic anthropologists surveyed 80 languages around the world, and discovered a surprising pattern. The argument about it has raged ever since, but there's reason to believe that human language may be directly shaped here by the biology of the human visual system. I'm still pretty shaky on color theory, myself -- additive and subtractive colors, and all that -- but it's interesting stuff.
Anyway. While I've been bouncing around alone in the house here in Moldova, Claudia and the children have been spending some weeks in Fladungen. Claude spent the last couple of days cleaning the study and part of the basement. After hauling a couple of hundred pounds of books up the stairs, she suggested that maybe it was time to start considering an e-reader?
Umm, well. Maybe! It would certainly be a convenience when travelling. (I tend to travel with a carry-on full of books.) I dunno, though. I hate being an early adopter, and while e-readers have been around for a few years, I look at the state of the art and it still seems... early-ish. Every e-reader seems to be lacking in one way or another. Also, the ownership aspect -- not just DRM, but not actually owning the file -- sets my teeth on edge. But perhaps these are quibbles.
Anyway: if the future is e-readers, what then of the secondhand book store? Is that even a meaningful question? I would think there'd be a niche for them for a long, long time to come -- secondhand books aren't going to disappear soon, and people won't lose the habit of reading physical books. Maybe I'm just overthinking the recent Borders bankruptcy. (Which I'm kinda sad about. People forget how awesome Borders was when it first started spreading across the country in the 1990s. My image of "chain bookstore" was a Waldenbooks I'd worked in back in the middle 1980s. Borders was just so much better in every way! Around 1995, when I was living in Saipan, I once had an eight-our stopover in Honolulu. I rented a car just to drive to the local Borders and buy a couple of shopping bags full of books.)
Okay, rambling. To bed!