stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF ARTISTIC LICENCE
space
In Tom Rachman's new novel, The Italian Teacher, the Vancouver-raised writer explores our deification of artists, and whether a devotion to their craft can live in harmony with a loving domestic life
space
By DAVID BERRY
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Page R1

Tom Rachman emerges from the gift shop, into an Art Gallery of Ontario lobby that is downright teeming for a Tuesday afternoon. The masses are gathered, of course, for the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, the long-in-thewaiting blockbuster show that was kept Toronto lined up, physically and digitally, for the past several months.

He studies the scene briefly, but is hardly fazed, weaving this flood of people into the point he was making.

"This show is a perfect example: [Kusama, the octogenarian Japanese artist] is an eccentric, fascinating person," the Vancouver-raised, Londonbased novelist explains. "If her work had been done by a retiring, shy character who dressed in entirely average fashions and had no history of mental troubles and all the rest of this fascinating tale, how would we evaluate her work?

"We have this fantasy that we're looking at the art, but it always gains a certain essence by having an extraordinary life behind it," he continues.

"If you talk to people working in the arts, they'll often say, you know, 'We're telling a story.' They're not selling the painting: They're selling everything wrapped up in it, and the more unorthodox and subversive and sometimes even villainous the character of the person creating it, the more attractive that story." Rachman has taken his own stab at crafting an artist's extraordinary life with his latest novel, The Italian Teacher. Although the title, and ostensibly the focus, of the book belong to Pinch Bavinsky, this main character is one of those classically beset types who is ultimately a supporting character in the story of his own life. The overwhelming force of the novel is Bear Bavinsky, Pinch's father, an unruly, philandering, prickly hurricane of an expressionist painter, who over the course of the novel moves from countercultural genius to overlooked has-been and ultimately finds a place as a rediscovered, underappreciated member of the canon.

Excepting his sexual appetites - it is eventually discovered that he has fathered 17 children - Bear is heedless to more or less anything other than his muse and his assumed legacy. In one of the novel's early scenes, Bear forces Pinch's mother to remain posed at her pottery wheel for hours on end, as Pinch keeps replacing the needle on the jazz record Bear needs to keep him blaring away to complete his artistic zone. As soon as the painting is complete, everyone else's day bent to the whims of the genius, Bear deems it unworthy, shreds it and burns it an oil drum - his way of ensuring that only the best of him will remain, once he's finally gone to that great pantheon in the sky.

The Italian Teacher is to a large degree about what kind of waves a person like that leaves in their wake. It became a particularly poignant question for Rachman as he was considering having his own child, wondering just how compatible a life of creation and a life of domesticity really are.

Although the only thing Rachman really shares with Bear Bavinsky is early success - his debut novel, The Imperfectionists, was a bona fide worldwide bestseller in 2010 - there is nevertheless a deep worry that something that takes so much of your focus and drive can leave little left for others.

"I think, in any circumstances, I would be living the kind of life that Philip Roth described as a writer's life, which is you're in a room with the door closed and - well, he said a typewriter, but I have a computer in front of me.

But in any case, the existence of a writer in terms of their writing life is, and remains, entirely uninteresting.

"But, approaching the prospect of parenthood, I wanted to think hard about whether it was appropriate - whether my work would be destroyed by taking that step or, much more gravely, if a child could thrive in the light of the ferocious devotion of trying to make it in the arts. I wanted to make sure I wasn't perhaps overlooking all of the leads and sacrifice that would be required for decency towards a vulnerable human being."

Bear would then represent an extreme answer to that quandary: He moves through life as though everyone is there to serve him. Rachman does such a powerful job of dramatizing just what effect it can have on the people who surround you, it seems to inevitably tie into bigger questions.

Namely, although it is a decidedly more personal affair, the novel in its way shares some of the concerns of #MeToo-affiliated public debate about what sorts of behaviour we are willing to put up with from people who make art. As Rachman points out, Bear does not belong to the most noxious strain of bad behaviour, those people who are wielding the power of their celebrity to dominate the bodies and minds of those they deem lesser - yet he is undeniably poison to those closest to him.

For instance, not only does Bear succinctly crush Pinch's own dreams of being an artist, he refuses to even remember the incident, and ultimately berates his son as being little more than a caretaker for his legacy. It's analogous to the behaviour of someone such as Picasso - whom Bear claims to have feuded with - in that it's not utterly monstrous, but more than enough to wreck the lives of almost everyone around him, as Rachman poignantly explores.

Although each individual case will shake our perceptions in its own way, for Rachman, one of the more fascinating angles is the fact that we are never actually capable of separating art and artist: "The fact that you suddenly can't appreciate their work as much because it's so tainted just shows how closely connected those two are," he points out.

For him, it's a sign that artists occupy a rarefied, nearly deified place in our world: not just that they produce things that change how we might look at it, but that their existence itself becomes somehow essential to the fabric of our lives. Their biographies, in their way, mean as much to us as anything else they might leave behind.

"In a mostly secular world, there's still an urge to find saints," he explains. We are by now wandering through the AGO's European installations, the crowds crammed away near the elevators, the dark quiet giving way to walls full of beatific revelations, the angels and virgins and biblical scenes that were, after all, the font from which Western art sprung.

"Many of the stories of great artists use the sort of language that would fit with a Catholic saint. They have a vision that in their lifetime, they go through all sorts of suffering, they don't care about worldly concerns - all of that sort of stuff because they're devoted to their calling, and they pursue that notwithstanding the indifference of the world."

Associated Graphic

Author Tom Rachman sits in the Art Gallery of Ontario on March 20. Rachman's latest work is about the waves a driven artist leaves in their wake.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

London-based novelist Tom Rachman is fascinated by our inability to separate art from the artist, a concept he ponders in The Italian Teacher through his character Bear Bavinsky.

FRED LUM/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Murray_Campbell Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page