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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Deepest longings

Interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Glimmerglass, now in pre-order
online or at your favorite indie
or directly from Mercer
From "TRAC: A Resurgence of Realism," by Theodore Prescott (American Arts Quarterly, Summer 2014), an article in response to The Representational Art Conference of March, 2014:
The dominant culture tries to find meaning in progress, [American painter Juliette Aristides] said, but everything that is uniquely and profoundly human becomes disposable in that vision--such as the two million plastic beverage bottles sold every five minutes, or the 208,000 photos uploaded to Facebook every second. For Aristides, the aim of art--real art--is different than the aim of progress, because it is directed toward what is of enduring value. Viktor Frankel, a Viennese psychologist who endured years in a Nazi concentration camp wrote, "Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life. . . . Man is able to live and die for the sake of his ideals and values." So artists need something to live for and work toward, which is of value both to them and to their audience, even if that audience is small. She cited J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings--an Oxford-based literary group that included C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams--as an example of a small group of people committed to an alternative vision that ultimately had enormous culture impact. The Inklings were not looking for critical success and commercial market share; they were driven to create mythic worlds that confirmed their deepest longings for goodness, truth and beauty. What they longed for was invisible, until they made it real.
Those lines are so very kindred to my own thought that it makes me feel happy to read it--to think that others are out there, working with similar thoughts and aims.


  1. Yes, me too, Marly. Earlier this morning I skimmed a depressing piece in The Paris Review about a new book that is a compilation of tweets by people working on novels. Two quotes from the article were: "it’s the story of what it means to live in a cultural climate that stifles almost every creative impulse, and why it so often seems we should stop trying." and " “The majority of books by successful writers are failures.The majority of writers are failures. And then there are the would-be writers, those who have failed to be writers in the first place.” Gosh. Why bother getting up in the morning, if this is your input, and the result of your own "search for meaning!" It makes me so grateful for my own fairly consistent optimism and determination, and this small community of like-minded people, who ignore the passing fads and clamor, and just keep on being true to their own creative vision.

    1. The internet, like most things, has a good side and a bad side, but one of its marvels is that through the web of connections it offers we discover others who are like us. And I love that! Everything I did over the past few weeks relates to finding friends in the world--my stay with Rebecca Kuder and Robert Freeman Wexler while teaching at the Antioch Workshops, and my visit afterward with painter Lynn Digby and composer Paul Digby, and all the collaborative work we did.

      It is wonderful to meet people who quietly go about creation... It is lovely to find one's kin strewn about the world.

    2. Somehow we've stumbled into a world wherein, if the big anonymous public doesn't "like" our creative output, we have no value! This used to vex me; now it just amuses. Somehow I can get along without the notice of the big anonymous public.

      Tangentially, maybe, I was talking this morning with someone who is working on a first novel. She was worrying herself to death about her premise. "Premise-schmemise!" I said. My advice was to just write as beautifully and as truthfully as possible. I confess that I feel a little guilty because I might be pointing her away from a future six-figure book deal. Every time I open my mouth to a young writer, I create an ethical quandary for myself. Yet somehow, when I sit down to write, it all seems so clear. Riddle me that.

    3. I know--absurd, isn't it? We ought to make them read Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful," although the article Beth references clearly opposes the views in it!

      "As beautifully and as truthfully as possible." That was excellent advice. There are way too many people selling their souls for some hypothetical bestseller.

      Melville said, "Dollars damn me!" about his books, and "I have come to regard this matter of Fame as the most transparent of all vanities." And I think we should take the proverbial leaf out of his book.

      We probably all ought to write a response to that "Paris Review" article because one's complex response to it says so much about the state of literature and the need to turn one's back on "the way things are." Cheerful defiance: that's my stance at the moment.

  2. In another way of looking at the "creative impulse," consider Thomas Hobbes who opined that much of what people think and do is determined by the their aversion to death ( -- and I hope I am not being overly simple in my assessment of Hobbes -- ). Perhaps creativity is an individual's argument against the finite limitations of a life lived with the constant awareness of death as the end. With something created (and perhaps living beyond the individual), the individuals thumb their noses at death. In other words, creativity provides some sort of immortality. Well, with an apology to Hobbes, there you have another (but certainly not original) point of view.

    1. I certainly think that art is a way of having more life--a larger life. Art seeks to capture life and energy, and in that sense it is opposed to the forces of morbidity and mortality.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.