Tag Archives: Henry James

The frustrations and rewards for making art

The great frustration many art-makers experience is often simply part of the process of mastery.  In order to push a work of art so that it has a shot at being fully realized, you have to endure a lot of frustration as you try over and over to get it right. And the mind doesn’t just produce on demand. You have to sit with yourself and coax it along.  And you have to tolerate the uncertainty of investing yourself deeply – and investing time – into something that might never come right.

[It’s] an absorbing errand. Isn’t that a great phrase? It’s from an early Henry James novel. Here’s the quotation: “True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self, but the point is not only to get out – you must stay out and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand”. . . . life is more meaningful for many of us when we pursue an absorbing errand – like writing, painting, playing an instrument, or mastering some complex craft . . . While we think of art making as introspective, and it certainly is, it also pulls us outside ourselves toward the world. It gives us a way to possess the world – thus it becomes an absorbing errand.

Janna Malamud Smith, in an interview talking about her book, An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsman Make Their Way to Mastery

(from here) 



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The knowability of the human heart

One of my Ten Commandments for biographers in This Long Pursuit is ‘Thou shalt be Humble about it, for it demonstrates that we can never know, or write, the Last Word about the Human Heart’.

Richard Holmes , interview in The Paris Review, Winter 2017

Biography is not systematic. It doesn’t always  qualify as art and never qualifies as science. At its centre is something unknowable and inaccessible, the human heart.

Stacy Schiff, interview in The Paris Review, Winter 2017

Henry James’ words “Never say you know the last word about any human heart” . . .  is the antidote to any tendency we might have to think we can really know other people, that we can sum them up, define them, be certain about who or what they are. They are always more than we know. Just as we are always more than we know. For we are more than our means to know gives us to know. Howard Cooper  (from here)

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