I had noticed that set of Sundance tintypes — here, at Esquire — but I'd passed on blogging it because it seemed artsy-fartsy. I like the one of Sam Shepard. That takes advantage of the effect nicely. (The movement of the subject causes the hair to resemble a white bird in flight.)
The Philip Seymour Hoffman one is among the best in the group, but how can you separate the old-timey artsy-fartsiness from all of your emotions in that box in your head labeled "Death" that this picture now opens?
But wasn't that the artsy-fartsy idea of doing tintypes in the first place — to take people alive today and position them in a past so long ago that they all look like people who must certainly now be dead and to plunge us into an angsty state of awareness that all of the pictures of ourselves and everyone we now love will some day be pictures of the dead?
Writing about these tintypes, I became sufficiently fixated on the word "artsy-fartsy" that I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary. It's a fancied up variation on the older term "arty-farty," which is obviously a rhyming variation on the familiar adjective "arty." Now, "arty-farty" — which is defined as "pretentiously artistic" — is traced back to 1946:
B. Marshall George Brown's Schooldays xxxv. 141 They work in one of those arty-farty florists where they make you pay through the nose for a bunch of carnations."Artsy-fartsy" is more recent, going back only to 1962:
G. P. Elliott David Knudsen 75 How did your artsy-fartsy movies turn out?You might also enjoy:
1984 A. F. Loewenstein This Place 31 This new one, Sonya, an artsy-fartsy feminist, the one thing their little staff had lacked until now.Heh. I'm tempted to start another blog — what with yesterday's Palpable Bitchery — and call it The Artsy-Fartsy Feminist. But go ahead. You do that. Seems like too much bad drawing would be required. Or bad poetry. Or really really bad riffing on OED entries.
Now... as long as we're doing this... you can see why "arty-farty" — the 1940s creation — would lead to "artsy-fartsy," because "artsy" was already a word. It too came from the 40s. Here's the ur-quote for "artsy." It's from The Washington Post in 1947: "I wear Chinese pajamas while I paint and they're pretty artsy."
Does the Artsy-Fartsy Feminist wear Chinese Pajamas?
"Even the cockroaches in his house are queer./Really, said Herschel..,—how artsy can we get." wrote William Gaddis, in "Recognitions" (1955). And John Lennon said "artsy" in his classic description of how he met Yoko:
There was a sort of underground clique in London; John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithful, had an art gallery in London called Indica and I’d been going around to galleries a bit on my off days in between records. I’d been to see a Takis exhibition, I don’t know if you know what that means, he does multiple electro-magnetic sculptures, and a few exhibitions in different galleries who showed these sort of unknown artists or underground artists. I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show next week and there was going to be something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went down to a preview of the show. I got there the night before it opened. I went in – she didn’t know who I was or anything – I was wandering around, there was a couple of artsy type students that had been helping lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and I was astounded. There was an apple on sale there for 200 quid, I thought it was fantastic–I got the humor in her work immediately. I didn’t have to sort of have much knowledge about avant garde or underground art, but the humor got me straight away. There was a fresh apple on a stand, this was before Apple–and it was 200 quid to watch the apple decompose. But there was another piece which really decided me for-or-against the artist, a ladder which led to a painting which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a blank canvas with a chain with a spy glass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says “yes.”Yes, yes, yes. Close that death box, get in your bag. Everybody's talking about Bagism. Everybody's saying "yes." You say goodbye, but I say hello. When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads. They might as well be dead. Now, get up, quit lying around, you artsy farters. Get out of your Chinese pajamas and put down that paint brush. Step away from the tintype camera. And just say "no" to heroin.