Barry Moser of The New York Review of Books posted a very cool piece about Flannery O’Connor and the linoleum cuts she created. As Moser points out, and as many of her beloved readers know, O’Connor wasn’t a typical creative person nor was she simply a writer. For example, she “kept a pet chicken when she was a small child and trained it to walk backward—it was the subject of a 1931 Pathé film ‘short,’ a brief human interest story that came between the Pathé news and the feature picture show. The five-year old Flannery was in the picture ‘to assist the chicken,’ but later said that it was ‘the high point’ in her life, adding, ‘Everything since has been anticlimax.'”
Moser began studying these linoleum cuts and was reminded of the short film. “It came back for the simple reason that linoleum cuts are drawn and cut backwards. Her prints are naïve in their craftsmanship. But so what? One does not really expect accomplished, sophisticated art from a college student, much less in a college newspaper, and in this O’Connor is not an exception.
“I suspect that most of them were done inside an hour’s time. If not, then she was dawdlin.’ This is very much in keeping with the medium. When worked warm, as on a hotplate, linoleum cuts like butter. The cutting tools meet little, if any, resistance. It cuts quick and easy. Later in her life she would say that the things that she worked on the hardest were usually her worst work. She also said that a story—or a linoleum print, if you will—has to have muscle as well as meaning, and the meaning has to be in the muscle. Her prints certainly have muscle, and a lot of it.
“Her rudimentary handling of the medium notwithstanding, O’Connor’s prints offer glimpses into the work of the writer she would become, especially, and naturally I suppose, in her captions.”
O’Connor exhibited a desire for satire, sure, but there was a deeper meaning, Moser contends, to her words and art. The following was directed “at the walls of pretentiousness, academics, fashion, student politics, and student committees.”
“It breaks my heart to leave for a whole summer.”
“Do you have any books the faculty doesn’t particularly recommend?”
“I don’t enjoy looking at these old pictures either, but it doesn’t hurt my reputation for people to think I’m a lover of fine arts.”
“I think it’s perfectly idiotic of the Navy not to let you WAVES dress sensibly like us college girls.”
“I wonder if there could be anything to that business about studying at the first of the quarter?”
“Do you think teachers are necessary?”
“Understand, I got nothing against getting educated, but it just looks like there ought to be an easier way to do it.”
“Targets are where you find them.”
“Wake me up in time to clap.”
The following are a few of her pieces. Moser’s full piece can be found here.