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Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files

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Joseph Cornell is a legendary yet living presence in American art. His famous boxes, with their ineffably perfect choice of elements -- the stuffed birds, the buttons and toys, the fragments of old theatrical posters, the poignant allusions to the worlds of the nineteenth-century ballet and opera -- are some of the most recognizable signatures in all of twentieth-century a Joseph Cornell is a legendary yet living presence in American art. His famous boxes, with their ineffably perfect choice of elements -- the stuffed birds, the buttons and toys, the fragments of old theatrical posters, the poignant allusions to the worlds of the nineteenth-century ballet and opera -- are some of the most recognizable signatures in all of twentieth-century art.From this extended selection of his diaries and other written material, Cornell emerges as a deeply dedicated and conscious artist, though one whose personality was every bit as unusual as many had perceived. Cornell used his diaries as he used his boxes, to capture and preserve his passing feelings, his momentary urges, and his anguished hesitations. He was an incessant and brilliant recorder of his thoughts as he considered his art or traveled to New York to haunt the antiquarian bookstores and shops where he collected material for his boxes.We see here his deep immersion in French symbolist poetry and his intense interest in his surrealist contemporaries. We see also his plangent yearning for les sylphides, the fairies of the ballet world who seemed to be reincarnated for him in the form of waitresses, dancers, actresses, and shop girls in his own world. Cornell corresponded with an astonishing range of people including Parker Tyler, Marianne Moore, Tony Curtis, Robert Motherwell, and Susan Sontag. His letters were often sent in the form of collages, and several of them are reproduced in this book.


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Joseph Cornell is a legendary yet living presence in American art. His famous boxes, with their ineffably perfect choice of elements -- the stuffed birds, the buttons and toys, the fragments of old theatrical posters, the poignant allusions to the worlds of the nineteenth-century ballet and opera -- are some of the most recognizable signatures in all of twentieth-century a Joseph Cornell is a legendary yet living presence in American art. His famous boxes, with their ineffably perfect choice of elements -- the stuffed birds, the buttons and toys, the fragments of old theatrical posters, the poignant allusions to the worlds of the nineteenth-century ballet and opera -- are some of the most recognizable signatures in all of twentieth-century art.From this extended selection of his diaries and other written material, Cornell emerges as a deeply dedicated and conscious artist, though one whose personality was every bit as unusual as many had perceived. Cornell used his diaries as he used his boxes, to capture and preserve his passing feelings, his momentary urges, and his anguished hesitations. He was an incessant and brilliant recorder of his thoughts as he considered his art or traveled to New York to haunt the antiquarian bookstores and shops where he collected material for his boxes.We see here his deep immersion in French symbolist poetry and his intense interest in his surrealist contemporaries. We see also his plangent yearning for les sylphides, the fairies of the ballet world who seemed to be reincarnated for him in the form of waitresses, dancers, actresses, and shop girls in his own world. Cornell corresponded with an astonishing range of people including Parker Tyler, Marianne Moore, Tony Curtis, Robert Motherwell, and Susan Sontag. His letters were often sent in the form of collages, and several of them are reproduced in this book.

30 review for Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Cornell is an artist and individual who I cycle back to constantly, with chance crossings—an online image, an article, a citation—sending me down the rabbit hole of research jags. I find not only his unique art work fascinating, but his creative process and idiosyncratic approach to life endlessly generative and inspiring. He's been on my mind the last few days, and this morning I pulled this copy back off my shelf, realizing after looking at the time stamp that I've now had it out from the libr Cornell is an artist and individual who I cycle back to constantly, with chance crossings—an online image, an article, a citation—sending me down the rabbit hole of research jags. I find not only his unique art work fascinating, but his creative process and idiosyncratic approach to life endlessly generative and inspiring. He's been on my mind the last few days, and this morning I pulled this copy back off my shelf, realizing after looking at the time stamp that I've now had it out from the library for nearly six years (I'll return it...someday). I dip in and out of this compendium fairly constantly and for a variety of reasons; sometimes as a stimulant and model for my own personal journal-keeping, sometimes to cross-reference his impressive network of friends and correspondents for my academic research, and other times just, to baldly appropriate a Vashti Bunyan lyric, "walk around in [the] mind" of one of the 20th century's most intriguing individuals. Through his singular sensibility, the quotidian becomes exalted. "So far uneventful but rest of day picked up that kind of richness in which a revelling in detail becomes such a feast of experience--" [Jan 24, 1947]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    What you realize is that his 30-year diary is a work of assemblage in itself. He had even entertained the notion that he would someday publish it. It's not only published; it's also officially archived: https://americanart.si.edu/research/c... What you realize is that his 30-year diary is a work of assemblage in itself. He had even entertained the notion that he would someday publish it. It's not only published; it's also officially archived: https://americanart.si.edu/research/c...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    Noran you know so many books it boggles my mind. -June'11 Because this book contains Cornell's diaries and letters Waldman cites it a lot in her book, JOSEPH CORNELL Master of Dreams, this is my next foray into the life and times of Joseph Cornell. July 28, 2011 Poetic ramblings, connections, observations, analysis, letters to friends and things that made Cornell tick. He was deep and had unusual thoughts, was romantic, obscure and loving at the same time. I enjoyed references to neighborhoods in Q Noran you know so many books it boggles my mind. -June'11 Because this book contains Cornell's diaries and letters Waldman cites it a lot in her book, JOSEPH CORNELL Master of Dreams, this is my next foray into the life and times of Joseph Cornell. July 28, 2011 Poetic ramblings, connections, observations, analysis, letters to friends and things that made Cornell tick. He was deep and had unusual thoughts, was romantic, obscure and loving at the same time. I enjoyed references to neighborhoods in Queens that I don't know personally and got a kick out of recognizing record stores where he shopped, radio stations he listened to and an occasional TV program mention. He was a huge classical music lover, experienced it deeply as well as the world around him. Though many of the restaurants he frequented were closed by the time I was old enough to be going to restaurants on my own, I remember a few. Throughout the diary writers, artists and books are noted. He was well read and a Francophile, often writing bits in French, often free associating punning and rhyming, mostly in notes to the daughters of his friends. I think my original; skepticism of Solomon's biography may have been well founded. His diary mentions none of his resentment for his mother. He had many beautiful female friends. He had many, many friends indeed! He worked for several publishers and had plenty of creative energy. I love Union Square. Bryant Park and the poetic films he left. I was surprised how little world events were recorded in his diary. Bobby Kennedy's murder did touch him as he mentioned his concern for the world but I'm surprised none of the 60s political movement entered his writings.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    found this beaut curiously resting on the poetry shelf of a tiny bookstore in wichita. fate has found: collaged letters, diary entries on the automat, essays and other beautiful wonders and whathaveyous by (and on) joe cornell.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tristy

    Magical and inspiring!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tina Redmond

    This was 99% writing, which was interesting. But I really wanted to look at pics of his art.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Fascinating glimpse into the mind of noted eccentric artist, Joseph Cornell.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    It was brilliant to see inside Cornell's mind although I couldn't quite follow at times. It was like an assemblage piece. It was brilliant to see inside Cornell's mind although I couldn't quite follow at times. It was like an assemblage piece.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anca

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meth

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Weiss

  12. 5 out of 5

    S

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  14. 4 out of 5

    Randy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Stemont

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kariann

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wolf

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Franke

  22. 4 out of 5

    Reñay

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Hughes

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sam Mills

  25. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  27. 4 out of 5

    David Weiss

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jes

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josias

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth J.

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