* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Serendipitously, I read two memoirs in close proximity, Julia Child’s account of her life in France and how she learned to be a first-rate cook, and Renee Fleming’s story of becoming a world-class opera diva. While there were many differences between the women and the skills they set out to master, I was struck in both books by how extraordinarily hard each one worked in private for years and years before going public, certainly before becoming famous, and how each managed shame. Both women loved what they did and thus brought to bear a similar, and I suspect key, willingness to stay with their efforts through eons of study, practice, and improvement. Both had the ability to hear criticism and to make corrections repeatedly without becoming terminally discouraged; to bear the anxiety of their efforts; neither was too proud to learn and keep learning. This willingness to be taught and corrected, without feeling ashamed, sometimes over and over again, is a huge asset when you are seeking to do something very well. And one way shame impedes people is by making them take criticism too personally – as about them rather than about what they’re trying to learn.
Janna Malamud Smith in An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery
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A: I admire the work of many artists, but if I have to choose only one then I’d say Matisse. Whenever there is a Matisse exhibition in New York, I try to see it at least once. Many years ago I read Hillary Spurling’s definitive two-volume biography (The Unknown Matisse, published 1998, and Matisse the Master, 2005) and became fascinated with how his life unfolded, how Matisse struggled and overcame daunting obstacles in order to make art, and how his work continued to grow and evolve throughout his long life.
I believe that Matisse and I are kindred souls in three respects: we both came from unpromising beginnings (he from a textile family in northern France, me from a blue collar family in New Jersey), our fathers did not support our interest in becoming artists, and he famously worked in series (I am well into my third series).
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