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Pearls from artists* # 294

Barbara at work

Barbara at work

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Interviewer:  Well, to begin – do you feel that you were born in a place and a time, and to a family all of which combined favorably to shape you for what you were to do?

Wilder:  Comparisons of one’s lot with others’ teaches us nothing and enfeebles the will.  Many born in an environment of poverty, disease, and stupidity, in an age of chaos, have put us in their debt.  By the standards of many people, and by my own, these dispositions were favorable – but what are our judgments in such matters?  Everyone is born with an array of handicaps – even Mozart, even Sophocles – and acquires new ones.  In a famous passage, Shakespeare ruefully complains that he was not endowed with another’s “scope”!  We are all equally distant from the sun, but we all have a share in it.  The most valuable thing I inherited was a temperament that does not revolt against Necessity and that is constantly renewed in Hope.  (I am alluding to Goethe’s great poem about the problem of each man’s “lot” – the Orphische Worte).         

Thornton Wilder in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

Comments are welcome!

Q: In light of the realities you discussed last week (see blog post of Aug. 24), what keeps you motivated to make art?

A favorite book

A favorite book

A:  In essence it’s that I have always worked much harder for love than for money.  I absolutely love my work, my creative process, and my chosen life.  I have experienced much tragedy –  no doubt there is more to come – but through it all, my journey as an artist is a continual adventure that gives me the ultimate freedom to spend my time on this earth as I want.  In my work I make the rules, set my own tasks, and resolve them on my own timetable.  What could be better than that? 

Furthermore, I know that I have a gift and with that comes a profound responsibility, an obligation to develop and use it to the best of my ability, regardless of what it may cost.  And when I say “cost,” I do not mean only money.   Art is a calling and all self-respecting artists do whatever is necessary to use and express our gifts.  

In “The Gift” Lewis Hyde says, “A gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts.  We cannot buy it, we cannot acquire it through an act of will.  It is bestowed upon us.  Thus we rightly speak of “talent” as a “gift” for although a talent can be perfected through an act of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance.  Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.”

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 10

West 28th Street

West 28th Street

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul,or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received.  Even if we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the piece.  I went to see a landscape painter’s works, and that evening, walking among pine trees near my home, I could see the shapes  and colors I had not seen the day before. The spirit of an artist’s gifts can wake our own.  The work appeals, as Joseph Conrad says, to a part of our being which is itself a gift and not an acquisition.  Our sense of harmony can hear the harmonies that Mozart heard.  We may not have the power to profess our gifts as the artist does,and yet we come to recognize, and in a sense to receive, the endowments of our being through the agency of his creation.  We feel fortunate, even redeemed.  The daily commerce of our lives – “sugar for sugar and salt for salt,” as the blues singers say – proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift revives the soul.  When we are moved by art we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gift.

If a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift and if it is received by its audience as a gift, then is it, too, a gift?  I have framed the question to imply an affirmative answer, but I doubt we can be so categorical.  Any object, any item of commerce, becomes one kind of property or another depending on how we use it.  Even if a work of art contains the spirit of the artist’s gift, it does  not follow that the work itself is a gift.  It is what we make of it.

And yet, that said, it must be added that the way we treat a thing can sometimes change its nature.  For example, religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold.  A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art.  But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it is possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a commodity.  Such, at any rate, is my position.  I do not maintain that art cannot  be bought and sold; I do maintain that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising.       

Lewis Hyde, The Gift

Comments are welcome.