I can do pretty good work in various short forms, but anything over 1400 words, I'd be of no use. I like to say I'm a river navigator. I need to see the shore behind the shore.
When a writer friend mentioned that he'd met Peter Schjeldahl (pronounced SHELL-dohl) at a party in Brooklyn, I was deeply envious. I had been writing about my father's Egon Schiele art collection, not just about the art, but so much more—life itself, family, how a writer translates what s/he sees into words. I didn't necessarily want to ask Peter Schjeldahl how to do it, I just wanted to be in the presence of a writer who thought of himself as an art lover more than an art critic. Maybe if we shared a physical space for a few moments, some of his skill would rub into me. I wondered if he used interesting, literary words in his spoken conversation. His columns often sent me to a dictionary, which I enjoyed.
He wrote for Art in America, 7 Days, The Village Voice and, finally, The New Yorker. Scanning the table of contents of The New Yorker when it arrived, I'd be disappointed if his byline wasn't there. When the magazine re-ran his eloquent piece about dying from lung cancer this week, I knew he was near the end:
The obituary in The New York Times revealed yet more about him: He wrote poetry before he wrote prose; he went to Carleton College, he considered himself a "miniaturist," writing pieces of a certain length, never anything book-length other than collected essays; he never knew what he was going to say about the art before he began to write. In the writing is the discovery, an artistic act in itself, and Peter Schjeldahl was an artist.