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Pearls from artists* # 301

Untitled reference photo for a pastel painting in the “Bolivianos” series

Untitled reference photo for a pastel painting in the “Bolivianos” series

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

In 1917 the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev commissioned a new libretto from Jean Cocteau.  When the young poet asked for advice on how to proceed, Diaghilev replied with a simple directive:  “Astonish me.”  The phrase would serve Cocteau as a mantra throughout his career, resurfacing, for instance, at the beginning of his classic film Orpheus.  Not surprising, as few statements could better encapsulate the impetus that has driven artistic creation since the beginning.  Astonishment is the litmus test of art, the sign by which we know we have been magicked out of practical and utilitarian enterprises to confront the bottomless dream of life in sensible form.  Art astonishes and is born of astonishment.  There is only one thing that it can be said to “communicate” more effectively than other mediums can, and that is “the weirdness of the Real.”         

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Pearls from artists* # 289

“Danzante,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”, in progress

“Danzante,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”, in progress

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

I do not think it the business of a poet to become a guru.  It is his business to write poetry, and to do that he must remain open and vulnerable.  We grow through relationships of every kind, but most of all through a relationship that takes the whole person.  And it would be pompous and artificial to make an arbitrary decision to shut the door.

The problem is to keep a balance, not to fall to pieces.  In keeping her balance in her last years Louise Bogan stopped writing poems, or nearly.  It was partly, I feel sure, that the detachment demanded of the critic (and especially his absorption in analyzing the work of others) is diametrically opposed to the kind of detachment demanded of the poet in relationship to his own work.  We are permitted to become detached only after the shock of an experience has been taken in, allowed to “happen” in the deepest sense.  Detachment comes with examining the experience by means of writing the poem.      

May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude: The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman

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Pearls from artists* # 184

"Couple," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Couple,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

Do the poet and scientist not work analogously?  Both are willing to waste effort.  To be hard on himself is one of the main strengths of each.  Each is attentive to clues, each must narrow the choice, must strive for perfection.  As George Grosz says, “In art there is no place for gossip and but a small place for the satirist.”  The objective is fertile procedure.  Is it not?  Jacob Bronkowski says in the Saturday Evening Post that science is not a mere collection of discoveries, but that science is the process of discovering.  In any case it’s not established once and for all; it’s evolving.

Marianne Moore in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews Second Series  

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Pearls from artists* # 106

Road delay, Arizona

Road delay, Arizona

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

Yet even I, who track the hours closely, understand that one pleasure of art-making is its resolute inefficiency.  It resists the sweep of the second hand; it is opposite to my daily muster of punch lists, telephone calls, day job requirements, family life, and errands.  The necessary thought may come today or next week.  Yet it’s not the same as leisure.  The struggle toward the next thought is rigorous, held within an isometric tension.  The poet Richard Wilbur writes about laundry drying on the line, “moving and staying like white water.”  Moving and staying.  Such water, familiar to anyone who has watched a brook rush over rocks, captures the way a creative practice insists you bear time.  You must hold still and wait, and yet you must push forward.   

Janna Malamud Smith in An Absorbing Errand:  How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery 

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Pearls from artists* # 45

iPad photo

iPad photo

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

Why do you write plays?  I am asked by the novelist.  Why do you write novels?  I am asked by the dramatist.  Why do you make films?  I am asked by the poet.  Why do you draw?  I am asked by the critic.  Why do you write?  I am asked by the draughtsman.  Yes, why?  I wonder.  Doubtless so that my seed may be blown all over the place.  I know little about this breath within me, but it is not gentle.  It does not care for the sick.  It is unmoved by fatigue.  It takes advantage of my gifts.  It wants to do its part.  It is not inspiration, it’s expiration one should say.  For this breath comes from a zone in man into which man cannot descend, even if Virgil were to lead him there, for Virgil himself did not descend into it.

Jean Cocteau in The Difficulty of Being

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Pearls from artists* # 40

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

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

A film is a succession of snapshots more or less posed, and it only very rarely gives us the illusion of the unexpected and rare.  Ninety films out of a hundred are merely interminable poses.  One doesn’t premeditate a photograph like a murder or a work of art.

Photography is rather like those huge American department stores where you find all you want:  old master paintings, locomotives, playing cards, tempests, gardens, opera glasses, pretty girls.  But steer clear at all costs of the floorwalkers.  They are terrible chatterbox bores who have no idea what they are saying.

A photographer for the Daily Mirror said to me:  “The most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken were on a day I had forgotten my film.”

That photographer is a poet, perhaps, but quite certainly an imbecile.  The photographer’s personality?

Obviously each of them blows his nose in his own fashion.  But the most successful photographs are not those that required the most trouble.

That would be just too easy.

Carlo Rim in On the Snapshot

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Pearls from artists* # 35

Westbeth, NYC

Westbeth, NYC

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

An individual who has committed himself to art and now wrestles within it, having given up everything else, has also become strict, you see.  Such a person is more likely to warn off others rather than to beckon them to enter into a realm of the most tremendous demands and indescribable sacrifices.  And for someone sitting at his desk, behind closed doors, matters are still relatively simple:  at least he has to deal only with himself.  But an actor, even when his work originates in the purest experiences of his being, stands in the open and performs his work in the open where he is exposed to all the influences, detractions, disturbances, and even hostilities that originate in his colleagues and his audience and that interrupt, distract, and split him off.  For him things are more difficult than for anyone else; above all, he needs to lure success and to base his actions on it.  And yet what misery results if this new alignment leads him to abandon the inner direction that had driven him into art in the first place.  He seems to have no self; his job consists in letting others dictate selves to him.  And the audience, once it has accepted him, wants to preserve him within the limits where it finds entertainment; and yet his achievement depends entirely upon his capacity to maintain an interior constancy through all kinds of changes, blindly, like a madman.  Any momentary weakness toward success is as sure to doom him as giving in and drawing on applause as a precondition for their creation spells doom for the painter or poet.

Ulrich Baer in The Wisdom of Rilke

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