“Everybody was looking for the next van Gogh . . . so that opened up the space for anybody who put two sticks together to be a sculptor, or two dabs of paint on a canvas to be a painter: ‘Don’t miss him! This man is a genius!’ You’re not going to catch the next van Gogh by just throwing everything on a wall.”
Jonah Kinigstein is having a moment . . . at 92! The painter and cartoonist has published his first collection, The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Tower of Babel in the “Art” World (FU Press) and had an exhibition of his work at the Society of Illustrators in the past few months, and he’s just getting warmed up! We met at his studio to talk about the abysmal and unredeemable state of modern art, and why he elected to stay in the representative mode of painting despite the allure and rewards of conceptual art. He also talks about a near-century of New York City, his glory years in Paris and Rome, his disenchantment with the National Academy, and more! Give it a listen!
“Here I was, studying anatomy . . . and there’s a man who’s dripping on the floor! I’ve got a lot of drippings on the floor; I think I’ll put them up!”
Jonah’s got plenty of venom to spare for artists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Hirst, but also talks about his great artistic influences, his reasons for pasting angry anti-modern-art cartoons on the walls in SoHo, why he paints on wood instead of canvas, and making a living designing department store windows and point-of-sale whiskey displays. It’s a fascinating life, and I’m glad we had the chance to talk! You can check out my photos from Jonah’s studio, including several of his panels, over here.
About our Guest
Born in 1923 in Coney Island, Jonah’s early influences were discovered during visits to the Metropolitan Museum- “When I really saw the old masters, it blew my mind, of course.” He attended Cooper Union for a year before he was drafted into the Army, serving from 1942 – 1945. Soon after, Jonah moved to Paris where he spent time at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, conversing with other aspiring artists, exchanging ideas, exhibiting his work, seeing established artists, and generally soaking up a fertile creative environment. He exhibited in several shows including the Salon D’Automne, Salon de Mai, and the Salon des Moins de Trente Ans, and had one-man shows in the Galerie Breteau and Les Impressions D’Art. After Paris, Jonah moved to Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at the La Schola Di Belles Artes. After a year, he returned to the U.S. and exhibited his paintings at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan. Like so many painters, he was unable to make a living solely from painting, so he worked in the commercial art world and did freelance illustration and design. Throughout this time, Jonah’s commitment to his own art never wavered, and he continued to paint and occasionally exhibit.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sous Le Ciel De Paris by Edith Piaf. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kinigstein’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Kinigstein by me.
“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”
Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!
“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”
We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!
About our Guest
At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.
Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.