In his essay “Writers & Artists” (which appears in his 1989 book Just Looking: Essays on Art) John Updike writes about the “graphic beauty of old manuscripts,” and lucidly describes the visual experience of the handwritten document by Pope or Boswell, Max Beerbohm or Evelyn Waugh. He concludes the essay with, “Small wonder that writers, so many of them, have drawn or painted: the tools are allied, the impulse is one.” Looking at Rockwell Kent letters is a visual tease about how his cursive speaks to his art. Is there a secret? Does his penmanship open up a ground floor window on the artist?
It is a precise hand, but the low slung letters are, to me, somewhat incongruous with the dramatic definition within his drawing. The letters appear quickly written–as if composed all with the fingers and not with the wrist. They are in ink, and there is just a hint of a stroke to the letters, though I don’t know what kind of pen Kent wrote with. As the arbiter of the letters for this blog post I don’t see the art here, though the first lines of the letters used as titles in the digital archive reveal the man: mood and relief translated by correspondence. The experience of reading handwritten letters in a library is an experience with art, this is one secret of letters, even as with Rockwell Kent’s letters, when they look at a glance very much alike. Each one is unique, each one is its own pen stroke.