Donald Friedman

The Writer's Brush

The Hand Before The Eye



I was born in Philip Roth’s neighborhood, the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey. Housing being scarce after the war, we--my parents, younger sister, and I—lived in my mother’s parents’ second floor walk-up apartment, until my father saved enough to buy a home in suburban South Orange. There, at ten, I enrolled in private art classes and began oil painting which continued through high school. An eighth grade art teacher and recognized sculptor, Joseph Domerecki, impressed by a clay bust I’d made in class, bought me a hunk of alabaster, lent me his chisels, and encouraged me to make something of it. At Columbia High School I cartooned for the school paper.

I then went to Washington University, St. Louis, where, apart from occasional cartoon contributions to the college paper, and private sketching, my sometime art career came to an end, and my creative impulses were mainly expressed in fiction writing and acting. It was then that I sensed a connection between the urge to draw and paint and to write, mulled it a bit, but had no idea what it could be. When I ran across a reference to D. H. Lawrence’s paintings it made an impression; as did a book of Henry Miller’s watercolors that someone gave me not long after.

In the years that followed graduation, after I’d gotten my J.D. from Rutgers and an L.L.M. from New York University Law School, had started practicing law, married and raised two children, I continued to make notes about writers who were artists. I also began to study fiction writing and to write in the early morning before work. A short story, “Jewing,” was published in Tikkun, and its elaboration became the novel The Hand Before the Eye, whose publication in 2000 after winning the Mid-List Press First Series Award marked the launch of a new career.

I turned at once to what had become, at that point, decades of research on writers who were artists. I searched out examples of their artwork from around the world, and secured more than 400 images, and reproduction rights—by itself almost a two year process—by 200 writers, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (b.1749) to Jonathan Lethem (b.1964). With the help of researchers I examined the writers’ biographies, their essays, letters, and journals, to unearth little known material about their lives in the visual arts, and wherever possible their insights about their other discipline, about the meaning it held for them, about the relationship between word and image. I corresponded with and interviewed contemporary writer-artists including Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Berger, Donald Justice, Richard Wilbur, and others.  All of that and more—there are essays by me, William Gass, and John Updike—became The Writer’s Brush. A labor of love, it is filled with surprises and pleasures I wanted to share with the reader, whom I at all times think of as a companion in discovery.


© Copyright Donald Friedman 2008 - All Rights Reserved