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Pearls from artists* # 25

Arizona highway (Donna at the wheel)

Arizona highway (Donna at the wheel)

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

February 21, 1924.  A hell of a day yesterday.  Bitter disappointment awaits the worker in photography.

After risking my neck to get the 8 x 10 camera on la azotea – flat roof – over Tina’s room, the highest vantage point of Lucerna 12, and after straining my back and stripping my nerves to  capture a sweep of scurrying cloud forms, development revealed fog – ruinous fog – unmistakably from extraneous light – and a beautiful negative it was, or might have been!

The demon fog can play such uncanny tricks – always I am confounded, disconcerted, mystified until the trouble has been located.  All morning I squinted and poked and probed, finally patching with felt the supposed leak due to a warped back, but I lost my negative, as fine a one as any of clouds I have done.

In a blue funk, I was ready to quit, and when Galvan called, accepted his  suggestion that we ride into the country and then walk for a while.

North, and out of el distrito federal, he took us to a barranca – gorge – close by – in fact, hardly twenty minutes drive away, yet, from the desolation of this cactus covered gulch we seemed a hundred miles away from any city street.  Cactus and rock and the tortuous curves of el arroyo seco – the dry gulch – a bleakness to the spot intensified by a lowering sky, black wrathful clouds, angrily unable to spill their burden of rain.  We climbed, we shot, we lay on the dead grass and watched the sunset edge the clouds with rose, and all around stiff cacti in spreading silhouette.  Tea with Galvan, his three old aunts and Don pepe – cajeta de Celaya, te, pasas – jelly from Celaya, tea, raisins, and sweet bread.

I feel better, to hell with photography, art, women and all.

Yet – I wished for my camera today.  Those serrated stalks of the maguey, their bold uncompromising leaves cutting the horizon, they would make a fine jagged base to a typical Mexican sky.

Nancy Newhall, editor, The Daybooks of Edward Weston:  Two Volumes in One:  I. Mexico  II. California

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 18

West Village

West Village

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

Those who would make art might well begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them:  most who began, quit.  It’s a genuine tragedy.  Worse yet, it’s an unnecessary tragedy.  After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground.  (Viewed from the outside, in fact, they’re indistinguishable).  We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles – troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the art-making process.  To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles.  Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.

But curiously, while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit.  Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail.  And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place their work belongs.

Virtually all artists encounter such moments.  Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring, and generally healthy part of the art-making cycle.  It happens all the time:  you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further.  Writers even have a phrase for it – “the pen has run dry” – but all media have their equivalents.  In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea.  But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens:  you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down… and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger.  Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.  The latter happens all the time.  Quitting happens once.  Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again.

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Comments are welcome!  

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