Children can open our hearts instantly delivering us to realms and deeper knowing

Grady Harp


Joseph Raffael, 2018: Joseph Raffael and David Pagel Talk: Some Thoughts About Talking Beauty

Dean Robertson

A Book to Open to Any Page. A Book to Last a Lifetime.

Book Review by P. Dean Robertson

An unlikely friendship between two men who have never met. A conversation between an eighty-year-old artist, living in the South of France, and an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. A conversation about a subject important to them both--a conversation about beauty, carried on through emails. This is the background for this remarkable book, in which--as conversations between friends often go--the talk veers from the subject of beauty to thoughts about love and death and children and marriage, thoughts about life. You will read about marriages ending, spouses falling ill, children sick or dying. You will also read about the discovery of love, the birth and raising of children, beloved animals, and gardens. When you have finished reading, you will have two new friends.

The emails, while organized into groups by subject or time or place, retain the freewheeling flavor of the best kind of talk. As you read, you will feel you have opened a door and been granted the privilege of listening in. You will know you are hearing something profound.

Because Joseph Raffael and David Pagel are readers and thinkers, every so often one of them will quote a poem or a novel. This tendency to remind us of all those others who have been concerned with the important subjects creates a wonderful richness and layering so that, although these conversations could stand entirely on their own, we are reminded that these two men stand in the midst of a long tradition of just such concerns, just such expression and exchange of ideas.

Joseph has spent his long life creating beauty with paint and canvas. David Pagel spends his days covering his canvases with words--on the pages of a major newspaper and in the classrooms where he holds out his hand to offer beauty to his students. They are men who live and breathe and have their being in the worlds of beauty they create and love.

I plan to be reading this book every day for the rest of my life.
A Mesmerizing Journey

Talking Beauty: A Conversation about Art, Love, Death, and Creativity—By Joseph Raffael and David Pagel

Book Review by Betsy Dillard Stroud

Talking Beauty presents us with a universe of wisdom, a confluence of issues that are ubiquitous, and an odyssey of pages that are filled with the wondrous paintings of Joseph Raffael. The cadence of the text illustrates the depth and supreme intelligence of both the painter, Joseph and the Los Angeles art critic and professor, David Pagel. We become intimately involved not only in text and paintings but also in photographs which represent certain turning points or significant stories in both their lives. We move through contemporary time to previous times and thought as we, too, join their search for answers to the major issues about beauty, art, life, death, and creativity.


Their e-mail conversation is a feat of storytelling, moving seamlessly from segue to segue, carrying the reader along revealing their personal tapestries of discoveries in life, deaths and near deaths of loved ones, including their animals.

Their conversation is both joyful and poignant. Often, I found myself weeping because their openness about their struggles and pain seemed to be my own.


Their conversation is intimate, one found only between close friends, although in reality, these two men have never met. We are invited into this conversation as if we, too, are really there, as friends listening intensely to their stories. Sometimes questions arise and often, the explanation lies in a flight to the poetry or quotations of others.

This is a book to be read and re-read, as it is a tribute to our own connection to Mankind and the multi-colored spectrum of existence. There is an abundance of life written here—all the textures of life--lived and to be lived and the linchpin which underlies everything is the beauty found in each experience. When I finished Talking Beauty, I realized that it epitomizes what Joseph Campbell meant in his quotation. “When we get to the end of the journey, we realize that we are only at the beginning.”

A Case Study of Lived, Day-By-Day Aesthetics

Book Review by Dane Goodman, artist/curator

In Talking Beauty we have the unusual opportunity to “listen in” on an extended email conversation between the exceptional painter, Joseph Raffael, and the noted art critic/curator/professor, David Pagel. It is remarkably candid and intimate given these two have never met in person. This private dialogue, unguarded and personal, offers a sensitive appeal to the role, and effect, of art in contemporary culture.

There is no cynicism, no competition, no meanness, none of the kind of male language that stereotypes the gender. It is both a plain spoken and elevated exchange between two men; each a caring, committed husband and father, who just happen to be extraordinarily engaged in the visual arts and how it impacts the world.

This discussion, the subject matter and the way it is talked about, doesn’t receive significant attention in the art world today. It hasn’t for years. It was common in the Bay area art circles in the late 60s and early 70s where Raffael was living and teaching. In the fields of literature, poetry, spirituality and religion, however, it has always been present.
Beauty became suspect in 20th century visual arts. After Civil Rights/Vietnam/Watergate, Irony raised its head and it continues look askance at beauty and sincerity.

Talking Beauty found a way to my heart because it rests in a world I’ve had contact with, though not as much in recent years. It brought back memories and generated fresh ideas.
I was moved and elevated by this book, as it is the serious and sweet dialogue all artists crave.

It is uplifting to see in print a conversation of kindness, compassion, and deep belief in how art amplifies life. Given the state of male leadership worldwide, Raffael and Pagel illustrate worthy, alternative paths to lead a life. It is a handbook for decency.

I received your Talking Beauty book last night. Finished reading it a few hours ago. What a fulfilling way to spend a late evening and early morning.


There is literally so much to comment on I won’t even begin. This email would become an extended essay.…

I was moved, enlightened, delighted and elevated by the conversation you had with Joseph. It is the serious and sweet dialogue all artists would be honored to have with you. Clearly you made a lasting impact on Joseph—and vice versa.


This discussion, the subject matter and the way you talked about, doesn’t seem to get much attention in the art circles today. And hasn’t for years. But it was common in the Bay area in the late 60s and early 70s. Perhaps I may not be reading the right stuff.


In literature, poetry, spiritual and religious circles it has always be present. I must have 20+ plus books by Wendell Berry. I met in once in SB and got to take him through our museum. Also had a little letter correspondence with him in the mid 90s.


Dane Goodman 11/10/2018

I am so happy to include TALKING BEAUTY in my library of favorite books. There is so much to think about. It makes me feel I want to express and live my life with beauty and love and be the person God created me to be. Some of my favorite area of the book that are especially meaningful to me are:†The classical poetry quotes. I love the poem "The Sycamore" by Wendell Berry. It is, indeed,†a mirror of life: overcoming all sufferings and surviving. Your love and admiration for Lannis, is felt throughout the book, and her contribution and thoughts were much appreciated. And I like the way you ended the book. I think that is the part I liked best.


TALKING BEAUTY is a treasure. I shall continue to read this "must have" book, and try to put into practice what I learn.


Dottie Greene 11/10/2018

I am enchanted with your book. It is a major book about so many important issues that it blows my mind. I am still†reading it and even rereading parts of it. I relate to many of these experiences and the connections to "Beauty" that are†made in each case. This book needs to be read by all. A magnificent gift by you and David Pagel. Did you get my other†comments about it? It is beautifully written ... and of course it would be. Because it is the gift of YOU.


Betsy Dillard Stroud 11/09/2018

I began reading your book last night although I tried to wait until today. I couldn't and read till about two. It is so powerful. Beautifully poignant and provocative. I read the parts about Matthew and Lannis's near death experience and what you went through. Your skills are so eloquent and moving. I reread those parts. What a great work of art.


Betsy Dillard Stroud 11/03/2018

I took Talking Beauty with me this weekend, and I had an opportunity to just sit on my own and absorb it all anew. This is such a special, deeply caring and wondrous book. I find it transporting, for it gently leads me into a world of deep states of thought and feelings on this subject of Beauty. Your discourse with David, as I've†expressed before, is a gift to the reader. Such wisdom in these pages, both from your own†sensitive, here-and-now †thoughts as well as from all the†myriad quotes and poems from all ages.


I really adored reading it! The photos are beautiful, varied and do enrich the text. I†know that this inward journey to Beauty that you take me on is one that I will come back to many times. Really a gem!


Thank you†both for your foresight in undertaking such a unique book, and for the masterful blend of both †personal and timeless wisdom gracing it's pages. Do you have the chance to read it again as well, and perhaps be soothed by it? Especially as your task in 'birthing' it is complete.


Another question that popped up - have you ever actually had the chance to meet David by this time? You must feel awfully close having shared so much of your lives and feelings together.


Marilyn Corcoran 11/06/2018

This 2am note bursting forth from me ... Talking Beauty†arrived this morning ... and after a full day of deep caring for Padi's dying mother here in our home ... I brought your and David's conversation with me to bed ... and now ... only to page 45 with tears in my eyes and chest ... and with awe at you two beautiful men and the BEAUTY that you have created, I had to write to you in the now of this lovely loving moment.


You can tell David that I fell in love with Leila between pages 39 and 40 ... what a gift of god these children are ... yesterday my 6 year old granddaughter Ella ... sitting on our front porch ... with Padi and her mom and dad (Nicollette and Eli) ... with her great grandmother dying in the bed not 10 feet behind her ... say ... apropos of nothing and yet everything ... says, " we are an expressive family" ... and we are weeping with laughter ... light, love and death's immanent spectre.


I love you Joseph Raffael ... down to the way your hand is perched around Lannis on the picture on page 45 ... just like how you hold your brush … so lovingly in applying the watercolors, your grace is there in every gesture.


And David has given me another frame for those cyclists on our roads up here...I have translated what I saw as pain in their efforts … into something much deeper … thank him ... for his gift to all of us...and for his beautiful lovely family; it makes me love mine even more.

Reuben Weinzveg 10/16/2018