In “Fahy’s Pub and Undertakers” in Dingle Town, with a background of smoke and mirrors and Bob Dylan recordings, I’m lifting a Guinness with Seamus O’Mahoney. He’s a retired art teacher, now a “water-dabbler,” who has bicycled out here from Dublin. For some reason I mention my letter-writing activities and he says, “So what’s the secret of art success?” He says the word “success” with a sly wink as if it’s a North American term. I admit silently to myself that I don’t really know the full secret, then I tell him I think a well-regulated life is important.
“That, for sure,” he says, “and a willfulness to put passion before everything else and not let anything stand in the way of ambition. A bit of the madness helps too — Irish letters are full of wonderful mad hares — Shaw, Wilde, O’Casey, Yeats, Synge, Joyce. All quite mad.”
I add that success has something to do with living in the actual process of making the art.
“For sure, for sure, but an Irishman is a man that’s been traditionally stuck on politics, religion and anger with little time for the process or scheming for success. But you’ll be happy to know that this is changing and more and more are now taking to the brush and the pen. I’ll tell you Mr. Letterman, there’s more born and true artists on this soil than any other country. In me own case I just wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice.”
“How important do you think is talent?” I put in.
He says, “That for sure too, and blarney as well.”
PS: “If you wish to succeed in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counselor, caution your elder brother, and hope your guardian genius.” (Joseph Addison)
Success in fine art depends less on talent and “blarney” than on the virtues of application and hard work. Most of the successful artists that I know take their work seriously and are enterprising in their habits and self-organization. In my observation it’s rather the opposite of the popular public conception as to what artists should be and act like. “No fine work can be done without concentration and self-sacrifice and toil and doubt. (Sir Max Beerbohm)
The twisted idealism of what an artist should be is typical of the Irish. This is a race that carries poverty like a badge of honor and remembers injustices from one generation to the next. No wonder they are stifled. “The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.” (George Bernard Shaw)
(RG note) Tapping into the rich resource of quotations on art is valuable if only to see and understand the variations in points of view. We have just completed adding over 1300 new ones collected by art quotation aficionado Derek Franklin of Victoria, BC. And he’s still looking for more! You can find the “Resource of Art Quotations” at: http://www.art-quotes.com/
by Misa Gidding-Chatfield, Seattle, Washington, USA
When I was 10 years old, my father suggested that I take my work to a nearby art store for critiquing. (I don’t believe he knew anything about the store… just assumed that people who sell art know about it.) The man told me I should throw it out and not waste my time or his. Whew! I went home and closed my paint box and didn’t resume my imagery until I was 21. I finally realized that anyone who sold black velvet paintings of Elvis probably shouldn’t have been consulted about my paintings. I laugh now!
by Joseph P Pavlovsky, London, UK
The Addison quote is right on except for the idea of caution. There is no place for caution in the arts. Caution must be thrown to the wind and chances must be taken if art is to be vibrant and alive. People are not going to the Tate Modern (in London) to see works of art where artists have proceeded timidly.
Kinds of success
by Henry Planchette, Quebec City, PQ, Canada
It’s easy to get hung up on the concept of “success” which has become the ruling religion of our day. For those of us who aspire to professionalism to be able to make ends meet is the early goal. Later, the need for fame as evidence of success becomes more important. It is important not to confuse success and fame. As they say, Mother Theresa is an example of success. Madonna is an example of fame. To me, making acceptable work that pleases me is success. All other kinds of success follow after that.
by Deborah Russell, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
I feel successful as an artist/poet/arts advocate. Not only do I feel successful (smiles) I know I am! Why? Because I am also quite mad. Not Irish, like my dear friend, Roger Cumminsky, (Ruairi MacChomacaigh in the responses to the last letter) but quite mad. Who else would risk weather, paint throughout the night and not realize they have no feeling in their feet, but a mad artist? (smiles again) Ahhh, but it is for the art, and the art rewards us in a silently resounding beauty!
by Barbara Kerr
I think that success hides in dark corners and the artist sometimes sets goals that are too lofty and grandiose. I recently did a painting reflecting my skin cancer procedure, and one of my students said, “Maybe that’s why you got skin cancer.”
Not a competition
by Jane Morris, Cobble Hill, BC, Canada
Painting for me is addictive. I can’t do enough of it. This year I’m finally getting somewhere. (whatever that means) Why I love it so much is of course the interest in art but also the fact that it is wholly mine. No one else’s. At last I am not involved with the four children, or even other people’s thoughts, only mine. It’s not a competition—except within myself and I only wish my days were 60 hours long.
Alert for the moment
by Sharon Williams
In my last posting to the letter Alpine Meadows, I told you that I was going to revisit a very special place that I had been to 3 years ago: a small waterfall in a woods in the Crowsnest Pass on the Alberta-BC border. I had originally shared this trip with a painter friend, and she felt the same way that I did about it. We had fear and trepidation but we did decide to go back. We prepared ourselves and prayed that we wouldn’t be disappointed. It was a dreary day, the sun poking out only briefly between gusty winds and showers, as is common in the Pass. As we got out of the car to begin the hike to the falls, the sun came out in full splendor and exceeding warmth and guided us along our way. When we got to our destination, it was like we had never left. It was changed in the 3 years since our first visit, but strangely the same, much like us. It was indeed the special place we had remembered. We again didn’t have our paints with us (too little faith I guess) but left with several rolls of film each. As soon as we got back to our car, the rain began again. We concluded that our artistic paths are defined by our journeys, and our job is to be alert for the ‘moment.’
by Nic East, Jim Thorpe, PA, USA
Before our birth, we are naught but a promise of possible creative expression. We have the potential but are without the means. This need remains unfulfilled until we enter into this plane of discovery. To have a life here is a most terrible and wondrous gift. It is the chance to explore the illusion and learn about ourselves. It is also a chance to learn to teach. Our identities grow with our knowingness as we go from simple trials through drastic failures and from experience toward wisdom’s ordered array. We struggle mightily to find our way through life’s labyrinth and to achieve a meaningful measure of awareness of what is really happening here. As we grow and interact with our parents and other teachers, we are made to understand that we are not alone in our quest, for we are accompanied by others who also search for their personal Grail. The form of our exploration is varied and without limit and its architecture is without visible horizon. Eventually we seek to find the ultimate shape of our Soul. Often, confused signals come from others who have only part of the answer and we may get lost along the way as we follow each byway to its confused and sometimes frustrating blind alley. After what seems to have been a lifetime of searching, we finally begin to understand the way things work and we attempt to teach others what we have tested true.
We work and strain for all our worth,
To make it right on Mother Earth.
And if perchance we do succeed,
Let’s hope that we’ve filled someone’s need.
You may be interested to know that artists from 87 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Chantal who only needs to pray to Zeus that there is no rain or wind. And Diane Voyentzie of Connecticut, who writes, “As Bob Dylan said, ‘Everybody’s got to serve somebody.’ As soon as you understand that, no matter who that somebody is, you’ll find your own success.”
And Linda T., who says, “One must be undaunted in one’s ability to appreciate the absurd, and laugh long and loud at one’s attempts to create. Creation, like talent, is a private realm, rarely understood and poorly contemplated by an observer.”
And Linda P, who quotes Emerson: “Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give.”
And Linda W, who says “It appears that people in Dingle Town drink themselves into the ground.”
(RG note) Pub and Undertaker together under one roof is common and traditional in the small towns of Ireland. Pubs are often the only large space where wakes can be held.