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Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published November 1st 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2006)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: artists
”The woman’s head is about the size of a fishbowl and is on its level. Her eyes though dark, are also fish, a sly parallelism Matisse has imposed. Her steady eyes are the same fish shape, fish size, as the orange strokes she regards from beneath the serene line of her plucked brows. The woman looks at the fish with fixed concentration or somnolent fascination or---what is the nature of her fishy gaze that holds in exquisite balance the paradox of passion and detachment, of intimacy and distance? ...more
Mar 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was not meant to annoy me. I realize that now. There are some beautiful passages and insight, but it wandered too much for me. I wanted to be swept away by it – and I am. But only now, a week after finishing it, as I find myself dipping back in, dog-earing pages and underlining sentences. For me, its power is latent.

But perhaps it’s more effective because of that. Somewhere along page one Hampl introduces the thought that I, personally, may not have the fortitude for the relaxed
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of art and Literature
Recommended to Carol by: Myself
Somewhere around the time when I expected to die young like Patricia Hampl's beloved Katherine Mansfield, the High Museum here in Atlanta had a wondrous Matisse exhibit. As an art history student, I'd been aware of the artist's work, but I truly discovered him back then with an epiphany similar to the one that started poet and essayist Hampl on the journey of this book. I remember gazing at the vivid paintings with rapture. Hampl's Blue Arabesque charmed me most, I believe, because it completely ...more
Betsy McTiernan
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm so glad I stumbled on Blue Arabesque, A Search for the Sublime. Hampl's motivation for the book is a Matisse painting--Woman Before an Aquarium--that stopped her dead in her tracks the summer after college when she was dashing through the Chicago Art Institute on her way to meet a friend. For years she collected bits and pieces of information about Matisse until she decided to fully indulge her obsession and attempt to figure out the power this work. Her journey leads her to study Matisse's ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, memoir
Patricia Hampl is an eclectic writer, mainly of personal essays and memoirs. She is most recently known for her memoir The Florist's Daughter. Her writing is personal and interesting, thoughtful and beautiful. In Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime Ms. Hampl is interested in creativity and the life needed to pursue it. The idea of the sublime she's talking about here is not sublime in the religious sense although there is a hint of that in the concent she visits, but sublime in the ...more
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this book to the right reader. Do not be misled by its title and subtitle, which imply the book is a philosophical inquiry into the subject of the sublime. This book is really a memoir, a collection of meandering essays tied together by the author's exploration of related experiences and an assured writing style.
Patricia Hampl is a wonderful writer in all aspects. For example, she has done enough research on Henri Matisse, Jerome Hill, Katherine Mansfield and a complement of
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
A gift, I had never heard of this book nor its author. I opened the book last night, just to take a look, to read the inside dust jacket text.

Now, the next day, I have just finished it.

The jacket says "meditation on the odalisque." That is neither what I would say nor what would call out to me. But I am at a loss at how to describe this book, this kind of memoir but only 200 pages of her life. But Matisse, visible or not, is nearby on every page.

Already in love with Matisse, having followed
Richard Gilbert
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Slow at first for me to get into, by halfway through I was thinking "I want to reread this" and by the end "I want to collect a hardback copy," the latter a unique response for me.

A meditation on art, looking, and on the reflective life needed to make art, Blue Arabesque moves from story to story—about paintings and creators and writing that Hampl loves—without feeling like a collection of essays. It is itself a unified work of art about one writer's love of artistic expression. It is classed
Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A book I've had for a few years and fortuitously chose to read now, Hampl's Search for the Sublime captivated me. Her musings over observation, creativity, and travel, all as part of the artistic process, mirror my own feelings and she is a wonderful user of words - I will re-read this one!
Feb 1, 2009

Re-reading 10 years later-February 2019. Leaving a winter reading group at the Grand Marais Art Colony with a focus on creativity, inspiration, dedication, and critique.

10 years ago this book was
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who wants to take a little time.
Recommended to Kate by: Marta
Utterly utterly perfect.

Hampl combines art and beauty and truth and faith and geography and... life. A good life. And naturally, for a person raised in the catholic tradition, it seems to come together in chapel. Oh, this book. I've fallen in love with a new author. I connected with her on a level that I connect with so few authors. A wonderful read. But it takes time. Consider it a mini vacation as you savor every single word on the page.
Jean Grant
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in religion, art, exoticism, travel
Patricia Hampl's gift is clarity. Although her thoughts in Blue Arabesque may be "highbrow," they're never intimidating or boring. Her epigraph is Matisse's "I am made of all that I have seen." This is as true for her voice as the artist's life--her elegant sentences don't shun homespun words like "crummy," "wobbly," "get it." It makes for an exhilarating read, this confidence and abundance.
Elizabeth Nordquist
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a memoir of aesthetics, and I was fascinated by it. Parts of it were just stunning. Other parts were more elusive in their connection to the whole. I have recommended it to art lovers in my life.
Ken Hada
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am very much impressed with Patricia Hampl's ability to simultaneously inform and inspire, to revel, reveal and resist. Her explication of Matisse and Katherine Mansfield, among others, is thoughtful and enjoyable to read.
Adrianne Mathiowetz
Mar 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Full disclosure: my stepmom is good friends with the author of this book. Parenthetical disclosure: seemingly unrelated to this fact, I stumbled upon Hampl's "Resort and Other Poems" book in a used bookstore in college, and devoured it, and continue to redevour it regularly to this day, like a DELICIOUS CUD I CANNOT GET RID OF. Ever since, the few times I've seen her around I've been all awkward and starry-eyed, amazed she remembers my name.

But, to be honest, this book didn't really do it for
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-on-art
Some of the subjects I found interesting in this book: Matisse, Turkish baths, Ingres, odalisques and Orientalism. The things I found less so: everything else.
Patricia Hampl relays mental meanderings after being intrigued by Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium , which led her into his other works, mostly a his series of odalisques. This provokes much thought on the theme of leisure and its various meaning east and west, religious and secular. Much of the thought is personal as Hampl gets into
Liz Pardey
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Miss Hampl is a practitioner of the essay, a thoughtful, wandering consideration. She starts with the moment she saw Matisse's "Woman in front of aquarium" and goes back to her convent school in St Paul, MN, Flaubert, Jerome Hill, Cassis, France, odalisques, harems. Virginia Woolf -- in no particular order.

She is always literate, personal, learned, wise. Her sentences are intricate and sometimes take a bit of unraveling but it is well worth any effort.

She describes Matisse' work as "Divine
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
Art, travel, leisure . . . Matisse and his models . . . I loved the sections on Marseille and Cassis, places I've visited. It was good to see them through Hampl's eyes, admittedly those of a tourist, but a thoughtful, artistic one.
Apr 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: art-book-club
Nice book to be able to pick up and peruse a chapter at a time. Not the best for a book club. More contemplative and for the person who is not as connected with art.
Apr 19, 2010 marked it as to-read
I was at the Art Institute and saw this painting and was all "wow, I could,like, write a book about this painting", and then I went down to the gift shop and found that Patricia Hampl already had.
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The fact that I visited many of the places she talks about made it really alive for me. A terrific writer.
Oct 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me in some ways of "The Art of Travel" by Alain de Botton. Art, travel, leisure, observation, faith, all pulled together in this set of connected essays. A good one.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Delightful and insightful memoir. Touches on Matisse and perceptions of southern France, on Katherine Mansfield.
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book and much of it resonated with me, although, for me, it would have benefited from a narrative through-line, or else something that circled back around to the "search for the sublime" more clearly and regularly.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it
If you are interested in tracing the life of Matisse, then you won't be disappointed. If you are hoping to learn more about the influence Matisse, and in particular the odalisques, had on the author's personal journey, you will be disappointed.
Gail Kennon
less meaty for me than others i've read by her but still worth reading for interesting observations and always good writing.
Karenbike Patterson
Jul 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
The author stops to contemplate a Matisse painting of a woman at leisure. She decided this is not self-indulgence. It is integrity. A whole book on this? I don't think so.
Natacha Pavlov
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, nonfiction
"The inspiration artists seek is surely not all a matter of location location location, but there must be a reason why artists and writers keep wandering about, seeking the Right Place."

"A form of love, to be so at ease in the frantic world, to be so at peace in the presence of beauty."

Patricia Hampl's 'Blue Arabesque' was an enjoyable, quick contemplation of the act of seeing and the creative process. Through her experience of seeing Matisse's 'Woman Before a Fish Bowl,' she explores the
Apr 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: random, non-fiction
It's difficult to explain why I devoured this memoir. Most the body is spent on her influences, her thoughts about them, how they tie into her life experiences. Stories at times seem completely unrelated to one another.

And yet, maybe this is why I enjoyed it so much: snippets of a life, told in a languid prose, the words drawing one into the hidden bowers of her thoughts. There is a moment of disorientation after closing the book; the stories themselves are echoed by the manner of telling.
Bonnie Barnes
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Read this for a book club--it was interesting and a little off-beat.
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting, but the focus meandered.
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Patricia Hampl’s most recent book is The Florist’s Daughter, winner of numerous “best” and “year end” awards, including the New York Times “100 Notable Books of the Year” and the 2008 Minnesota Book Award for Memoir and Creative Nonfiction. Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, published in 2006 and now in paperback, was also one of the Times Notable Books; a portion was chosen for The Best ...more
“For moderns - for us - there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. _Just taking our time_, as we say. That is, letting time take us.

"Can you say," I once inquired of a sixty-year old cloistered nun who had lived (vibrantly, it seemed) from teh age of nineteen in her monastery cell, "what the core of contemplative life is?"

"Leisure," she said, without hesitation, her china blue eyes cheerfully steady on me. I suppose I expected her to say, "Prayer." Or maybe "The search for God." Or "Inner peace." Inner peace would have been good. One of the big-ticket items of spirituality.

She saw I didn't see.

"It takes time to do this," she said finally.

Her "this" being the kind of work that requires abdication from time's industrial purpose (doing things, getting things). By choosing leisure she had bid farewell to the fevered enterprise of getting-and-spending whereby, as the poet said, we lay waste our powers.”
“It's strange that we still believe in inspiration when, compared to earlier ages, we seem to believe in so little. Inspiration may be the one bit of God we haven't managed to kill off.” 0 likes
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