Balzac's "The Unknown Masterpiece"

Art Notes Book Club

As a member of the Art Notes Book Club I wrote an initial entry that covered my thoughts on Balzac's treatise on art: his short story "The Unknown Masterpiece." Below is the entry that I submitted to the online book club. In the future I will post my not only some of my entries to the book club but those of other members as well.

Book Club entry:

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Balzac's rather animated description of the artistic journey which often entails the pursuit of expressing universal truths, ala Aristotle, a pursuit of attempting to express truths in a transcending way that will outlive the artist himself and truths that are filled with passion that speaks fervently. No wonder that Porbus said, "The fruits of love wither quick; those of art are immortal."

For many artists, technical command alone, does not signify any type artistic achievement. For example, just the ability to draw doesn't mean that one is creative but rather that one is imitating and not creating. Thus, the Master told Porbus, "It's not the mission of art to copy nature, but to express it! Remember, artists aren't mere imitators, they're poets!"

Herein lies the beauty of this novel, Balzac aptly gives us three artists; Poussin representing the eager, young artist who is at the very beginning of his personal journey, Porbus who represents the middle of the road artist who although not a beginner is not a Master artist yet, and finally, Frenhofer who fully embodies the term: Master Artist. Although the pursuit of attempting sublime artistic expression is never over considering the way Balzac ends this story. Observers to the unfolding of this story, including Poussin and Porbus clearly see that Frenhofer represents an art form that is a creative expression that communicates something that is alive and felt through all the physical and emotional senses with both the viewer and the creator and that creation is not restrained by rules of imitating, but viewers also learn that by the Master himself spending several years on one painting and not finishing the painting that the pursuit of an artist is an eternal journey, a journey filled with the pains of failure and the joys of success.