Amanda Clyne: The Artist’s Catch-22
I have always thought writers and artists should get together more often to exchange war stories and wisdom from their battles in the creative trenches. Every time I read a book by a writer about the struggles of the writing process (I’ve provided a list of some of my favorites below), I am struck by the similar nature of their struggles to my own as a visual artist. So when Canadian artist David Urban posted this video on Facebook of poet Louise Gluck speaking at the 2008 Poets Forum, it seemed relevant far beyond her immediate audience. In the clip, she is responding to a question about “the danger and difficulty” of creating poetry, but for me, her response offers a fiercely honest summary of the catch-22 that all artist’s face:
I have no doubt that all artists are confronted everyday with this conundrum. We must be brave and arrogant enough to believe that the vision we are fighting to express is worthy and important, and yet we cannot wallow in self-delusion when faced with the reality of our resulting efforts. Whose views are qualified to provide the necessary validation? Art history is full of stories of tortured but brilliant artists dying penniless and unknown, rebellious artists being mocked by the contemporary establishment but revered by later generations, and sensational artists being shunned by the artistic elites but glorified by the cynical art market. How are you to know when or whether you are delusional about the value of your own work?
For me, for now, I have come to rely on two strategies:
1) Know what great work is. Ultimately, I must be the arbiter of my own work, but I can only be sufficiently honest and critical with myself if I have an informed understanding of what great art is and why. So I look and read and look and read and look and read, endlessly studying the work of artists past and present, and ask myself, “If my art heroes saw this work, would they be intrigued or bored, inspired or offended, would they take the time to look long and hard or would they just shrug and walk away?”
2) Artists know great art. History tells us that the art that lives on is the art that influences other artists. So the views I value most are the opinions of my fellow artists whom I respect and admire, who understand my core vision and trust in my abilities, and who have no qualms telling me when I’m veering onto the wrong track, or challenging me to up my game.
A few of my favorite books by writers about writing:
- Margaret Atwood, “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing”
- Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”
- Brenda Ueland, “If You Want to Write”