The series of ordinary household objects has continued, although I am (ahem) quite behind in posting them to this blog. This was finished a year or so ago. I don’t hate the finished version (at the bottom), but in retrospect, I mourn the beautiful looseness of the first version.
I do wish I hadn’t nailed this particular butterfly to the wall in the quest for a greater precision, and looking at it again, while it kind of hurts, is reminding me to stop sooner next time, a lesson I only seem to learn at the rate of one millimeter per year.
The work is the death mask of its conception.
— Walter Benjamin
But there’s no reason to cry. If it’s true that first-rate novels are rare, it’s also true that what we call the literary canon is really the history of the second-rate, the legacy of honourable failures. Any writer should be proud to join that list just as any reader should count themselves lucky to read them. The literature we love amounts to the fractured shards of an attempt, not the monument of fulfilment. The art is in the attempt, and this matter of understanding-that-which-is-outside-of-ourselves using only what we have inside ourselves amounts to some of the hardest intellectual and emotional work you’ll ever do. It is a writer’s duty. It is also a reader’s duty. Did I mention that yet?”
— Zadie Smith, “Fail Better“
At times, whatever he might say, he was surely lost in a cloud of unknowing; but at least it was a peaceful cloud at present and sailing through a milky sea towards a possible though unlikely ecstasy at an indefinite remove was, if not the fullness of life, then something like its shadow.
— Patrick O’Brien, HMS Surprise
The problem with nonfiction these days is that everybody wants—this idea of a personal vision is very important. “Where do you stand?” I find all that pretty tiresome. I’m not ever saying anything unusual, you know? I’m just trying to think about general things just a bit more specifically. I’m not claiming to any unusual emotions, tastes, opinions—I have a very average taste in most things. It’s not that. It’s just trying to express, as precisely as you can, these perfectly average things.
Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
Assay and correction, approximation and refinement, venture and return.
— Lawrence Weschler, “Cameraworks: Staring Down a Paralyzed Cyclops,” True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney
Work. Be relentless. All over the world, people are working harder than you.
I used to struggle like mad with my art, lose sleep over it, lament over “ruining” pieces and so on. Painting became easy the day I decided it should be easy. It was really that simple.
It’s been too long since I’ve posted, and not because I don’t have a lot of work(s in progress) to share. I kept thinking I was about to finish something and present it here all wrapped up, forgetting that I started this blog in the first place to show and talk about unfinished work. Anyway, I keep leaving paintings hovering on the brink of being done, afraid to fuck them up in their final moments, and going on to start other things, and right now I have about 7 paintings that are almost done . . . but not quite.
Andrew Sullivan, whose idiosyncratic blog I spin through daily, linked to this wonderful short essay today, a meditation on a quotation from a Henry James story about an author who, having completed many books, dies but before he is able to create his master work. The essay briefly examines his famous exclamation: “A second chance! That’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
It’s well worth a read.
And while moving from Henry James to Sheryl Crow may seem like a bit of a jump, I was reminded of her song, “We Do What We Can.” It’s jazz-inflected, with some fun time signature changes and great mournful lyrics. I’ve always loved this song but nobody ever seems to know it.