Art walk


Dear Artist,

On the morning of August 9, 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit rigged a 450-pound cable between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and for 45 minutes walked, danced, lay down, kneeled and saluted, 1350 feet above an impromptu crowd in the plaza below. Because he believed that all great creative acts are a kind of rebellion, Philippe called his unauthorized walk “the coup.” After being arrested, released and sentenced to perform for children in Central Park, Philippe celebrated his 25th birthday and made New York his home.


“The impossible – we are told – cannot be achieved. To overcome the ‘impossible,’ we need to use our wits and be fearless. We need to break the rules and to circumvent – some would say to cheat.”

Forty years later, Philippe is still performing art and sharing his affirmations:

“I’m known to make my dreams come true,” he says, describing a release of fear at an early age — and learning to tie knots.

“Passion is the motto of all my actions.” Philippe taught himself card tricks and club juggling at age six — before his hands and body were big enough to pull off the illusions.

“Tenacity is how I kept at it against all odds.” As a teenager Philippe would draw a circle on the street and perform silently within it as a sacred space for art, his way.


“I am not up there by chance. I am there by choice. And I know the wire. And I know my limits. And I am a madman of details.”

“Intuition is a tool essential in my life.” Getting expelled from school only fuelled his appetite for self-directed, personalized learning.

“Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.” Philippe and his walk were an overnight, worldwide sensation — a breath-held poem gracing the void between the world’s tallest skyscrapers. On fame, Philippe said that he was never interested in “collecting giants” for the sake of dare-devilling or glory. He places his Twin Towers walk on the same artistic level as his boyhood street gigs — audaciously renegade gifts to polish the soul of anyone willing to stand at the circle.


“I am the poet of the high wire – I never do stunts; I do theatrical performances.”



PS: “Fortune favours the bold.” (Virgil)

“The limits exist only in the minds of those who can not dream.” (Philippe Petit)

Esoterica: Philippe performed the “coup” just weeks before the towers’ completion, generating universal affection and kind of a blessing to New York’s newest additions to the skyline, up until then seen as somewhat drab. In his 2002 book, To Reach the Clouds, Philippe Petit recounts in detail the inspiration, planning and execution of his impossible idea. In 2008, Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, among multiple awards. A children’s book and animated adaptation were released in 2005. Recently, director Robert Zemeckis created the IMAX 3D movie The Walk, a cinematic re-creation of Philippe’s high-wire walk that almost puts you on the rope with him. “There is no such thing as motivation in my world. I am not motivated to do what I do. As an artist, I am driven, I am compelled, I am thrust forward by a force so rooted inside me, so convincing, that it seems futile to try to explain it,” says Philippe Petit. “Although it has a name: passion.”



  1. I like this guy. He helps me to believe. Like most artists, I also have my own circle. But, I have my doubts, and I constantly fight against these doubts, wondering if I have the backbone to earn that space. I fight the fight of following the herd, seeking to please others, to fit, when it really should only matter what I stand for. I know that right for me is my own truth. I only falter when I try to please others. We all face the fear of unchartered waters when there is nothing there to follow except our own footsteps. Believe in the mantra “be true to ones self”, and prepare to stand alone. Then reward yourself with the title of artist.

    • Facing our fears and “going for it” despite our doubts is an on-going saga. For some lucky ones the process is a more natural must dol. For the rest of us an on-going saga. Let’s keep it up, for an artist that is truly the only way to leave. May help to know, near death recoveries wished they had taken more risk, not had spent more time in the office..

  2. In a talk on creativity (The Membrane, 2010) I showed a clip from “Man on a Wire” and ended with this:

    It existed only for an hour or so, and can never be repeated. Still, I felt it had the spark of great art. … But as I watched this I started feeling something that I think I’ve always feared but have put away in a black box: that great art demands that we walk that wire — that we are willing to risk everything for the work. No wonder Plato thought artists were crazy and banned them from his Republic!

    The divine spark of inspiration can be a dangerous thing, dangerous to us and those we love. How many of us have the courage (or foolhardiness) to crawl into the darkest, deepest part of the cave, or hide in tiny studios, or walk in the air between the tallest buildings in the world? Our cowardice may make us good, decent, productive citizens — but is it also the reason we fail as artists? Or maybe the feeling of defeat and failure is a part of being an artist — maybe a part of being alive.

    On the other hand, all that could all be bullshit, as several of my friends have pointed out. David Bailin reminded me that Charles Ives held onto his security as an insurance man, and yet in his spare time composed some of the greatest and most daring sounds in the history of music. Somerset Maugham was not a driven wire-walker like Gauguin or Van Gogh or Morandi or Satie. He played it safe and watched the bottom line, but managed to turn out some great novels anyway, some of them about that very passion he felt he lacked. In Of Human Bondage Glutton and Philip represent the two poles of creativity — the one who sacrifices everything for his art because he can’t do otherwise (he’s a glutton for punishment!), the other who doesn’t have this imperative and sees the folly and cruelty of the “true” artist’s life.

    And yet either is capable of great art. There are no rules for creativity. It’s a lawless activity, and we make our own rules. Yours will be different from mine, and they keep changing. First there’s a mountain, then there’s not. The membrane gets twisted into Moby Dick and swallows us up like Jonah, and God only knows where we’ll get spit up

    • Liz Sivertson on

      I just watched the movie documentary “Man on Wire” and was so moved by the story of Philippe Petit’s amazing feat of art. I also thought about the twin towers – 911, and how those buildings that were fearlessly built, and (seemingly)fearlessly destroyed. …and how art redeems it all.

    • If my mind had such passionate ideas perhaps I would decide to follow them but alas it does not so is that cowardice or lack of something of the divine that was” given”this man and the others noted to do the great things they did, whether they lived “normal” lives or not it seems not in the cards for most but not of free will for them either but they were driven by something powerful leaving us to ponder the whys and that is a mystery which is really not a mystery but just life confusing us in its randomness, until we see that and that is when we are brave artists free of comparison and judgement and then capable of greatness ourselves, phew long thought.

  3. So….who let this guy into the brand new towers to rig up his rope?
    Frankly….if I saw him in a hallowed circle on a public sidewalk, he’d have had company to contend with, but up in the air on a rope strung between two pillars of power…..that’s definitely a solo act….but is it art?
    I think fearless is the defining word here….to take action in your passion without fear of condemnation….or failure to live up to the expectations of culture or society….and in so doing to realize your unique contribution makes you different, and consequently….makes a difference.

  4. I saw ‘Man on wire’ about a year ago and found it moving, poetic. I certainly consider the event to be art, far more so than the ‘installations’ that win big prizes nowadays. (He had help from an insider to get into the buildings and stretch the wire).
    However, although what he did was astonishing, and he used an ability that is far beyond the level of most of us, we all have abilities that we can take to astonishing levels if we are prepared to make the effort. More often than not, those feats are not recognised, certainly not like his was, but they are real nonetheless.
    Athletes have the concept of the PB, the ‘personal best’. It’s a great motivator to keep striving to do better, even if the recognition is entirely personal.

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