Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Art's Easy

Art is easy.

All you have to do, really, is look inside yourself and find some sort of emotion, idea, a feeling, something, of roughly galactic mass. Then you drag that out where you can see it.

Then, by a process I can tell you nothing about because you must discover it yourself, except that it will involve astronomical amounts of effort, you translate that galactic mass of whatever-it-is which is meaningful only to you, in to something that might be accessible to others.

I was watching a Sally Mann interview (I swear to God I do not do this all that often, just every now and then) in which she, as she often does, insists that she possesses not one scrap of real talent or genius, or even technical skill. She chalks it all up to luck and a lot of trying.

While I may have a few quibbles with Mrs. Mann on the first couple of points, it is worth noting that the really great artists work like rented mules. Mozart, who Mrs. Mann cites as an example of actual genius, was certainly a party boy. Lazy and incompetent. Still, he worked endlessly when it came to writing down music. In a working life of something like 20 years he wrote something like 200 hours of completed music, arranged, orchestrated, often with vocal parts and so on. At a wild guess, this works out to something like 1000 pages of music per year. Granted, it seems to have come into his head fully formed, so in a sense all he had to do was write it down.

Still, no matter how you slice it, Mozart's brief career involved a shocking amount of simple dumb labor.

There was evidently a famous rock climber, one of the early greats of Big Wall climbing, name of Warren Harding. He was one of the team that first climbed El Capitan in Yosemite, an ascent that took 27 days. Nnngh. On a later ascent on a different route, also many days in length, he and his partner seem to have finished the last couple of days without food or water. Possibly I mis-read it, and they had water.

Regardless, Harding's main useful trait seems to have been simply endurance. Endurance being useless without it, one can assume that he was also staggeringly stubborn. He simply wasn't a particularly good climber. Better than me I assume, but compared with his contemporaries, not top drawer at all. But he could really hang in there.

Harding, according to Wikipedia, related a story about climbing with an extremely skilled and technically competent British fellow who at one point exclaimed in frustration, "My GOD, Harding, you can't do anything!" to which Harding claims to have replied, "I know! But I can do it forever!"

And that, in a way, perhaps, is what Art is about in the end.

It's easy to start something. Much harder to finish it. And maybe, just maybe, the harder it is to finish, the better it is. Sometimes.


  1. Is this not a long paraphrase of Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration"?

  2. Totally agree! I believe lack of "talent" and its sibling, "intelligence", are often used as excuses why one a) will never succeed in a certain undertaking, and b) doesn't need to put any effort in said undertaking. In combination, a) and b) create the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy.
    In regards to "talent" and "intelligence", these properties determine how much effort a given individual has to put in to reach a certain goal. But without intrinsic motivation (aka passion) and rigorous self-discipline, they are essentially worthless.

    Best, Thomas

  3. Hi Andrew,

    It may -to some extent- be unrelated but your last paragraph reminded me of a documentary you will probably enjoy, "Tim's Vermeer".
    Let us know if you like it!