Sunday, February 18, 2007

28 artists and 2 saints

“The relation between morality and imagination may be a complicated one, but it does exist...Hope, forgiveness — these are not just moral actions. They are enlargements of the mind. Without them, you remain in the tunnel of the self.”

The Times today has a review of a new book - Twenty Eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Acocella. It focuses on the lives of artists (primarily dancers and writers) - rather, the lifetime investment into the creative process itself. That mysterious and often anguished realm that only a practioner can fully understand. For many it is a prolonged exercise in disappointment and loneliness matched with private joys and ephiphanies of all scales. Some of the people covered are Louise Bourgeois, Mikhail Baryshnikov,Hilary Mantel, and Primo Levi. This looks to possibly be required reading in age of hyper-careerism in the arts. It's good to be reminded of the long view.

I particularly like the following observation:
How many artists subscribe to the notion that creative success depends on input from the fickle muse or her modern avatar, mental illness? Probably very few. Like all romantic conceits, it fails to acknowledge the grubby reality of mortal life, in this case the dedicated, often torturous labor a writer or dancer or sculptor invests in what he or she makes. Among the lucid and often delightful observations Joan Acocella makes in her new collection of critical essays, “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints,” none is more important than this: “What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite ... ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.”


CJF said...

Research on writing says the same: practicing scholars and writers who rely on coffee, manic patches, and midnight revelations are about 50-75% less productive in terms of quality and quantity than others who just sit down at a regular time each day or week. I'd say a certain kind of embodiment shapes our relationship to the work and drives the productive gears--and without that kind of embodied practice, we're just grasping at straws.

cjagers said...

Now thats TRUE! I have loved reading Acocella for years. Thanks for bringing attention to this, I will check it out.

Have you seen her essay on Flamenco?

highlowbetween said...

well you have to have coffee! even on a daily practice, couldn't imagine things otherwise.
But yes, the hail mary/magic moment approach to creativity is a myth at best and ultimately rings hollow. Anyone within a serious practice knows that it is consistency that brings forth understanding and allows the artist to navigate within established parameters of making. I'd argue that it is familiarity with the subject/methodology that actual allows one to break free into new niches of clarity and imagination.

Jagers - I haven't read that but this book looks really impressive.