Part 1: Ego or Justice?— the Fight in Every Man

Part 2: John Sloan, or, Art Stands for Justice, Not Ego

Part 3: The Fight between Justice and Ego in an Artist



The Fight between Justice and Ego in an Artist

Though tremendously admirable in his life and work, Sloan had the fight within himself that is in every person. In TRO 1295, "Art, Integrity and Self-Doubt," Ellen Reiss writes: 
    an artist, because he so much wants to give justice to the world, can feel even more troubled than others by the unseen fight within him between this beautiful purpose and the other, ugly purpose--contempt.
     In his biography of Sloan, Brooks tells of another side of the artist--he had a quick, bitter tongue which Sloan himself called a "tabasco tongue." And Brooks writes that Sloan had "a streak of perversity ...when he took the opposite side in a discussion almost automatically and rejoiced that he made enemies thereby." I feel this unseen fight within him between respect--the desire to "so much want to give justice to the world--"and the desire to have contempt--had him "even more troubled" than others. Sloan was plagued by stomach trouble--severe jaundice attacks--throughout his life, and in later years, had three gall bladder operations. He also suffered for a time from diplopia or "double vision." 

      In his marriage, I believe, Sloan couldn't make sense of how on the one hand he needed his wife, Dolly, very much and how he also wanted to dismiss her. Aesthetic Realism has defined love as "proud need," and once, speaking to a man, Mr. Siegel said:

    Most often when we need another person we are ashamed: we feel less ourselves. So the question is, What do you need your wife for, and do you respect what you might need her for?
From what I have read, in the 42 years they were married, it appears that Dolly encouraged Sloan's art, and also his feeling for justice by being a force herself in behalf of labor, organizing demonstrations, meetings and strikes. He was proud to need her for that. But, there was much turmoil and shame as well. Dolly had had a painful childhood, losing both parents by the time she was 3. She developed a drinking problem in her teens which continued on and off throughout her life. In his diaries, while Sloan indicates some worry about her, he speaks of Dolly almost entirely in a domestic sense--as cooking, sewing, helping to entertain friends. There's no sense of her as person with thoughts of her own, hopes, a seeing of the world and of him that he could have learned from--something which would have encouraged and strengthened her. Mr. Siegel once said, "the artist in a person often runs ahead of the man." I believe Sloan as husband did not see as deeply and kindly as Sloan the artist and it hurt both of their lives. 

     What John Sloan needed to know, I am fortunate to be learning now in Aesthetic Realism classes taught by Ellen Reiss. Before Lynette and I were married, I was very happy but also somewhat self-satisfied. In a class. Miss Reiss asked me: "Do you think you have a fight between wanting to see keen, deep, alive meaning in Lynette Abel and also wanting to take her for granted?" I said, "Yes." She explained with critical humor that a man can feel, "didn't I give enough homage to her [just by wanting to marry her?]" I saw this was true, and I've become a better critic of myself and I believe a kinder husband. I see "keen, deep, alive meaning" in my wife--in her care for music, literature, graphic arts, her passion that Aesthetic Realism be known and justice come to people. As a man who was once determined to feel that he didn't need anybody, I'm proud to need her, and I love her. 

The Desire for Justice Is Deep

Following World War I, though no longer politically active, John Sloan still showed large desire to be just to people. Beginning in 1919, he and Dolly spent summers in Sante Fe, New Mexico. There he was greatly moved by Native American dances, painting, pottery, and played a leading role in bringing the first important exhibitions of Native American art to New York. 

     In 1943, while Sloan was recovering from his third gall bladder operation, and Dolly was taking care of him, she died suddenly of a heart attack at his bedside. She was 66. Sloan, weak from his illness, felt lost for months and did little painting. Then, a correspondence began with a former student of his, Helen Farr; who wrote to him, saying she wanted him to be able to paint again with the passion and vitality he once had. When Sloan answered, saying he was now leading "a lonely, purposeless life," Helen Farr took a train to Santa Fe, impelled to encourage the best thing in him. Less than a year later, they were married. Sloan was 72 years old and she, 32. They were soon back in New York, living and painting together for the next eight years. After Sloan's death in 1951, Helen devoted the rest of her life to having his work valued truly, as it has been increasingly these years. 

     What John Sloan was hoping for is in the sentence by Ellen Reiss from The Right Of  with which I end my paper: "Because of Aesthetic Realism, artists and everyone can at last learn what is the best thing in us and what is the worst, and be able to have the best not just incidental and accidental but thriving, steady, victorious."


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