Monthly Archives: August 2014

The moment of sorrow after finishing a novel

A Work of Fiction

As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow envel- oped me. Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real? To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette. In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor. But who would see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars? I stood a while in the dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently de- stroying me. How small it was, how brief. Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.                        Louise Glück (more here) 

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The Dream of Perfection

All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing. William Faulkner, in interview (see more here) 

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The Japanese concept Ut-su-roi locates beauty at the moment when it is altered. It implies an acceptance of flux and of transition, for it means it is not the beauty of the cherry blossom that gives the highest pleasure but the knowledge of its evanescence.The fugitive emptiness between one palpable state and another. The shadows leaping lack of substance. The ephemeral dappling of light under trees. Variations that are undone on the instant – all these answer to the idea Utsuroi. It depends on an understanding that time is not linear nor one event after another in a chain, but an overlapping sequence of the same shapes and a shaken kaleidoscope.’ Marina Warner: Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism (See another link to this quote)

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The artist’s relationship to her work

The point is not, however, that the strongest or most unusual personality makes the strongest or most unusual art. The process is more elusive than that. It depends on a willingness to hand over one’s emotions or feelings to the work of art, to allow one’s personality to float away from one and lodge in form. It is with this peculiar process that impersonality comes into play, for the artist must be willing to allow the feelings to take on a life of their own, and perhaps more important for the artist than the particular character or quality of a feeling are the feelings about that feeling, an ease with one’s feelings, an equanimity about one’s own feelings. All the artists of any consequence whom I’ve known have been to a certain degree detached from the emotional character of their work, as if this were some difficult feeling, some strange emotional weather that they had made their peace with, that they had allowed to take its place in the autonomous world of form.           Jed Perl Antoine’s Alphabet: Watteau and His World

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D for Diamonds

[Helena Rubinstein’s] legendary collection of jewels was kept in a filing cabinet, sorted alphabetically: “A” for amethysts, “B” for beryls, “D” for diamonds.

Malcolm Gladwell, The Color of Money: Sometimes beauty is just busines




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The tedium of blossoming

Maria Popova: What was important for me, as a younger person, was figuring out ways to beat the school system at its own game and do really well in exams. I basically studied the mechanics of how tests work. I did all the reading, but I did it for the sake of feeling like I was doing well, rather than learning. And then there was a turning point, I can’t remember exactly when it was. I stopped caring about grades and the external reinforcement. I became interested in learning. Maybe it was a form of rebelliousness, I don’t know. I became interested in learning about things that I was not being taught in school. I did a lot of my own alternative reading, outside of the curriculum. And this transition from worrying about external reinforcement to personal learning and curiosity is how Brain Pickings was born. It happened only years later, but that’s where it all came from.

Interviewer: Was there a specific moment, or person, or book that sparked this rebellious learning, your turning point?
Maria Popova: I don’t believe in that “Eureka!” myth. Everything meaningful is incremental.
It’s a false prophet, this notion of the turning point or epiphany. I think of it like the blossoming of a flower. We are always interested in the flower, but not the tedium of the blossoming. But that process from bud to blossom is when things really happen. It may be less compelling. So all this goes to say, I don’t have a single turning point. But there was a cumulative push.

– See more at:

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Deep in the forest

The Clearing

Deep in the forest there’s an unexpected clearing which can be reached only by someone who has lost his way. The clearing is enclosed in a forest that is choking itself. Black trunks with the ashy bear-stubble of lichen. The trees are screwed tightly together and are dead right up to the tops, where a few solitary green twigs touch the light. Beneath them: shadow brooding on shadow, and the swamp growing.

But in the open space the grass is strangely green and living. There are big stones lying here as if they’d been arranged. They must be the foundation stones of a house, but I could be wrong. Who lived here?

No one can tell us. The names exist somewhere in an archive that no one opens (it’s only archives that stay young). The oral tradition has died and with it the memories. The gypsy people remember but those who have learnt to write forget. Write down, and forget.   The homestead murmurs with voices, it is the center of the world. But the inhabitants die or move out, the chronicle breaks off. Desolate for many years. And the homestead becomes a sphinx. At last everything’s gone, except the foundation stones. Somehow I’ve been here before, but now I must go.

Tomas Transtromer, The Clearing

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Collage on found medical illustration paper


Wangechi Mutu Cervical Hypertrophy 2005

collage on found medical illustration paper 45.7 x 32.4cm

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Art is the necessity of the unnecessary, a daydream reshaped through the imperatives of the painter’s rectangle of canvas. And the power of certain great paintings, no matter how much self-conscious craft the artist brings to the work, is the quality of a daydream, an orchestration of elements whose meaning remains ambiguous or contradictory. The fascination of such a painting is directly related to the fascination of daydreams, for we do not necessarily want to know what they mean so much as we want to linger over them, sink into the luxuriant satisfactions of such fantasies, although we can also be alarmed or even repelled by their power. In daydreams meaning is never fixed. Jed Perl Antoine’s Alphabet: Watteau and His World.

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The limits of perfection

Perfection demands it be preserved in a sterile glass case, sheltered from the weather, untouched by time, abstracted from life, mummified in a museum. By its very nature, it is rigid, brittle and unadaptable. But if perfection can be deadly, the corollary is that it is imperfection that ensures the survival of an artistic creation. For only what is imperfect, incomplete, unfinished, remains susceptible to modification and adaption. It affords a margin for compromise and transformation. Instead of being fatally dented by the carious accidents of life, imperfection can be harmoniously completed by them. Michelangelo said that a statue was not really finished unless it had rolled down from a mountain. In different places, at different times, great artists have always remained aware of this. In classical Japan, a famous master of the art of gardens instructed one of his disciples to clean the garden. The zealous disciple executed his task to perfection. The master came to inspect his work and frowned. Without a word, he walked to a young tree and gave its trunk a vigorous kick. Three dead leaves fell upon the immaculately manicured grass. The master smiled at last: Now it looks a little better. Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness:Collected Essays

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