I was fascinated when I read that the French artist, Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947) kept a diary that commented on the weather and recorded the shoes he wore each day. How interesting is that?

I never kept a diary because I didn’t want to keep a record that somebody could read. However, I am intrigued with the idea of writing about shoes. The shoes we wear tell so much about the lives we live. Even Carrie Bradshaw would agree.

Is a blog like a diary?

the diary of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-1871)

The Morgan Library  (225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, NY, NY)

has mounted a fabulous exhibition titled The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.

The image above is the Diary of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-1871). Image: the Internet.

I’ve seen the Diary exhibition at the Morgan Library 3 times. I am amazed by the fame of the authors included.  I am amazed by the penmanship and beauty of the entries. The script is so tiny and perfect.

There are over seventy diaries on view. The show closes May 22, 2011.

The diaries include the most personal information. People wrote private journals to keep a record of their daily lives and creative projects, and to explore and sort out personal problems.

The exhibition includes the illustrated journal of the American painter Stuart Davis (1894-1964), the journal/sketchbook of painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (British, 1723-1792), the writings of Charlotte Bronte (British, 1816-1855), Tennessee Williams (American 1911-1983) and John Steinbeck (American 1902-1968), and the travel diary of Albert Einstein (born Germany, 1879 – 1955).

The exhibition poses the question: What is a diary?  Must it be a private document? In the age of web journals, blogs and social media, how and why do we document our daily lives today?

Are we returning to writing diaries but in a different form?

Read more about all of the diaries at the Morgan Library exhibition.

See the online exhibition and follow the curator’s blog.

Can an object express an idea like a diary?

Claudia DeMonte, Female Fetish Shoe

The image above is by Claudia DeMonte and is titled Female Fetish: Shoe (2006). It is pewter and brass on wood (4x9x3 inches). The artist is investigating icons of female culture. The decorative elements are small pewter representations of a woman’s world: gloves, purses, cups, saucers, and umbrellas (image: the Internet).


The Morgan Library exhibition folder says keeping a diary is a stimulus to creativity.

Why not keep an artist’s journal? They are illustrated diaries and can be on any theme you choose. You can keep a record of your daily thoughts, and your plans and progress with a project. You can keep a travel journal or a dream journal. Your journal can even be a collection of to-do lists.

If you add art to your writing, you’ve created an art journal. I recommend you embellish your journal with collage, painting and drawing.


What did you see or read that challenges you?

Keep a journal and it will help you understand your creative process and help you remember all the steps you took that helped navigate the hard parts.

Describe the project, make notes of how you brainstorm and capture ideas as they flow.

Your note taking will help you focus. If you like to add charts and checklists, it will help you quantify and measure where you are going.


The next exhibition at the Morgan Library is titled “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (June 3 – October 2, 2011).

It sounds like a good follow-up to the Diaries exhibition.

Willie Cole, Pretty in Pink


I want to return to shoes as a metaphor for history and culture. It seems there are many artists who do shoes. Here’s another bit of information:The British artist David Hockney wrote that he started his photocollage works with his feet. His is shoes were always the beginning point of the visual journey. Hockney is an excellent writer. He is able to describe his ideas and process in great detail. I recommend his book THAT’S THE WAY I SEE IT (by Thames & Hudson).

Willie Cole (American, born 1955) showed a collection of shoes in an exhibition titled Sole to Soul at the Alexander and Bonin Gallery, 132 Tenth Avenue, NY, NY  (Jan-Feb 2006).

The image above is titled Pretty in Pink.

The shoes are formed into circles to express the concept of lotus blossoms, which die and flower again. The blossoms range in diameter from 4 to 7 feet.

The gallery wrote: Willie Cole’s art is about acts of transformation and transcendence. In the late 80’s the artist made a conscious choice to work with used objects to take advantage of the energy transference achieved through a process of telekinesis and chi transfers. He has used consumer and industrial detritus such hairdryers, irons, bicycle parts and shoes to make objects which reveal their nature as talismans and sometimes as a critique of capitalist and consumer culture.

Willie Cole currently has works included in the exhibition “Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three Continents” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (5th Avenue at 82 Street, NY, NY). The exhibition continues through August 21, 2011.

Willie Cole, Shine

The work above by Willie Cole is in the Met show and is titled Shine (2007). It is constructed with shoes, steel wire, monofilament line, washers and screws, 15.75 x 14 x 15 inches, collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (image: the Internet).

Do you see the eyes and mouth in Cole’s work titled Shine (above)?

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoyed all the news about the artists and the exhibitions. Please add your comments below. Do you – or did you – keep a diary? Do you think the blog replaced the diary?

2 thoughts on “ART OF THE DIARY

  1. Some wonderful suggestions here —- Nancy — keep it up
    if a diary is meant to be truly personal – then a blog does not replace it… what you are doing is sharing 00 “and teaching” and that is indeed -wonderful.


    1. Hi Barbara,

      True confessions – I never kept a diary but always wanted to. I was afraid my diary would be read by everyone.

      Your comment makes me think about what is/is not personal on-line.

      Comments are obviously public – but are also personal if you choose to express them that way. I think my comments are always personal and also public. So I am careful about what I write.

      Thank you for the compliment. Sorry I didn’t see this response earlier.

      Best regards, Nancy

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