* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The young man was experiencing that profound emotion which has stirred the hearts of all great artists when, in the prime of youth and their love of art, they approach a man of genius or stand in the presence of a masterpiece. There is a first bloom in all human feelings, the result of a noble enthusiasm which gradually fades till happiness is no more than a memory, glory a lie. Among such fragile sentiments, none so resembles love as the youthful passion of an artist first suffering that initial delicious torture which will be his destiny of glory and woe, a passion brimming with boldness and fear, vague hopes and inevitable frustrations. The youth who, short of cash but long of talent, fails to tremble upon first encountering a master, must always lack at least one heartstring, some sensitivity in his brushstroke, a certain poetic expressiveness. There may be concerned boasters prematurely convinced that the future is theirs, but only fools believe them. In this regard, the young stranger seemed to possess true merit, if talent is to be measured by that initial shyness and that indefinable humility which a man destined for glory is likely to lose in the exercise of his art, as a pretty woman loses hers in the stratagems of coquetry. The habit of triumph diminishes doubt, and humility may be a kind of doubt.
Honore Balzac in The Unknown Masterpiece
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It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away.
A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false.
Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms. He will retain them. He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust. Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared – relief that he was writing anything at all. That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all; surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork. But no.
Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it in the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?” The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
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