The Absurdity of Life

I have been ruminating lately on the absurdity of life. One of my favorite stories, which best epitomizes the absurdity of life (to me at least) is a fairy tale first published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. Doctor Know-It-All tells the story of how a struggling woodcutter becomes a well-respected doctor. He sells his wood cart and oxen, uses the proceeds to buy new clothes, medical supplies, and an ABC book with a picture of a rooster inside and then goes on to solve the mystery of a theft from a rich and powerful man. His reputation made, he lives the rest of his life in luxury.

I’m not sure what to think of this story. Is the story of Dr. Know-It-All is really a folk tale version of “Fake It Until You Make It?” Does it have a spiritual message? Or does the woodcutter (named Crabbe in some versions of the tale, Fish in others) succeed because he’s lucky or smart? Or both?

And I couldn’t be the only one who finds it preposterous that Doctor Know It All owed his success, at least partially, to his frustration when he couldn’t find the rooster’s picture in the ABC book as quickly as he wanted? I don’t have the answer; I just enjoy the story.

I first read the story years ago in a wonderful book called Tales From Grimm, reinterpreted and illustrated by Wanda Gág, and first published in 1936. It remains my favorite version of this tale. I am not sure how I came to own my tattered copy of Tales From Grimm. I think I borrowed it from my grade school library and never bothered to return it. No matter. They tore the school down years ago.

At any rate, Wanda Gág was a groundbreaking illustrator and author of children’s literature, as well as a printmaker and entrepreneur. You can read about her career and see examples of her work here. Gág’s career is also covered in part 25 of the YouTube Unsung Heroes of Illustration series of videos by Pete Beard that I mentioned in a prior blog post. You can go directly to that video here. You can purchase a copy of Tales From Grimm here, or borrow it from the Internet Archive Open Library, here. And if you are ever in Gág’s birthplace of New Ulm Minnesota, you can visit a museum dedicated to her life and work here.

Some Art History Worth Watching on YouTube

I admit that I am brain dead right now and that I am not up to a detailed blog post. I am in the process of going through and organizing for sale or donation possessions that I have stored in my house for years, including camera equipment, musical instruments, depression glass, artwork and other items that I have squirreled away in my 916 square foot abode. The process has taken me on a trip down memory lane, which is sometimes difficult to navigate.

One of the ways I’ve taken to relaxing lately is to pour myself a glass of wine after my husband goes to bed, and sit with Boris and watch YouTube. There’s a lot of junk on YouTube but there’s so much valuable and entertaining information, I can hardly believe it’s free. I have some recommendations.

The first is a documentary on M.C. Escher from 2013. One of the big revelations for me in watching this documentary is that Escher was greatly influenced by Islamic art and visited the Alhambra where he did a lot of drawing. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Read more about Escher’s experience at the Alhambra, here. And then watch the wonderful documentary.

But wait! Just like the Ginsu knives, there’s more! I’ve always loved to draw and I’ve struggled with drawing in one form or another for years. Just ask Boris. So I have a great deal of admiration for illustrators. Pete Beard, who is an illustrator from the U.K., turns out to be quite a filmmaker too. He’s put together a video series called “The Unsung Heroes of Illustration.” Each video is about 12 minutes long give or take, meticulously researched, engagingly narrated, and lavishly illustrated. I believe there are about 84 short films.

On the YouTube site, Beard says, “I had always thought that many illustrators from the past got nothing like the attention they deserved so I decided to make some videos about a few of these almost forgotten talents. The unsung heroes series was originally intended to be about illustrators from what’s known as the golden age of illustration. But I soon realised that meant ignoring many early 20th century illustrators who strictly speaking didn’t fit that description. So I compromised and ended up with parameters of those born between 1850 and 1910.”

Beard has a number of other worthwhile videos on his channel that you can watch after you’ve finished with the The Unsung Heroes of Illustration.