There’s a cartoon I want to show you, and I can’t find it, so I’ll just have to describe it. A single panel shows a child slumped at the dinner table, his face cupped in his hands, a portrait of utter dejection. His mother hovers over him, patting his shoulder and saying, “I’m sorry, dear! I remember when I met my first radio deejay, too.”
I considered that cartoon a few weeks ago while reclining on a putty-colored chaise lounge, watching artist Christian Kolupski paint my portrait. I was very much aware of the fact that I was privileged to be there because I’m a radio deejay. The painter is donating a series of portraits to WXXI’s annual auction, and I was the guinea pig to show our viewers how the process worked. I felt honored.
Over three hours, the artist spun a curious mix of music including a Mozart piano concerto and the Cuban folk music known as “punto guajiro,” which combines Andalusian, African, and peasant tunes. We drank wine, ate pizza, and talked about music, art, and families. I enjoyed the session very much, but when it was over, I secretly wondered if the artist was disappointed by the face of the voice he said he admired.
My friend Nicole Maynard once offered to paint my portrait, and I remember feeling a shade self-conscious about the idea. She recently painted a piece she titled “Thaw,” and on her excellent blog she describes the day someone showed her John Singer Sargent’s “An Artist in His Studio” and told her she, like Sargent, was a Sensualist, meaning that she paints in a way that transforms or translates not just the texture but the essence of material into paint. This is why artists intimidate me. They see through the surface of things.
My sister alerted me to the discovery of a new portrait of Mozart painted by Joseph Hickel in 1783. The man in the picture, shown in profile, wears a red coat, grey wig and neutral expression. He has a hooked nose and does not look at all like the brilliant buffoon in the 1984 Milos Forman film Amadeus. Wall Street Journal writer Terry Teachout’s response to the Mozartian portrait is, “Who cares?”
Well, Terry, as you note, a lot of people care. Images and symbols anchor us to the physical world in profound ways. In a WXXI podcast, I asked Christopher Seaman, the Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, about Mozart’s portrait. He said it was useful and important because it links us to Mozart’s music. The conductor also explains why he always wears bowties: they provide a personal, physical connection to composer Richard Strauss, who also wore bowties. His link to Strauss, Seaman says, follows a straight line all the way back to Mozart.