Yesterday, Brian Crawford Young of Inverness, Scotland, wrote, “I’ve been having a crisis since I got back from a wonderful residency at the Art Students’ League, Vytlacil Campus in Rockland County, New York. The ambience was great, the staff helpful, the scenery brilliant, and the quick access to Manhattan exciting. But when I got home to the Highlands of Scotland everything crunched to a halt. All my fears and self-doubts emerged and creativity stopped. Any thoughts on this sort of blues?”
Author sara genn
While mingling at an 85-year-old’s birthday party recently, I overheard a conversation between two artists: “How’s your work going?” asked the first. “It’s not. I haven’t picked up a brush in months,” said the second. “No time to paint.” They batted, back and forth, the creativity-hijacking perils of family, social obligations, sports, studio rent, Thanksgiving and the deadly word, “worthwhile” — as in, “I’m not doing it enough to make the sacrifices worthwhile.” The cake came, everyone sang, the candles were blown out and a wish was made. “The secret to life,” nudged our host, “is that you need to do what you really want to do.”
One foggy morning, I was painting on the edge of the Seine within a few miles of Monet’s home in Giverny. In the distance and coming upstream toward me was what looked like an American birch-bark canoe. Barely able to make out the unlikely apparition in the mist, I figured the canoe to be haphazardly made, and its occupants to be two teenage boys. Sure enough, as the canoe came alongside, it was a patched-up mishmash paddled by a couple of kids who had probably overindulged on The Last of the Mohicans.
In 1960, saxophonist Steve Lacy transcribed 25 musical “tips” from jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Monk was, at the time, highly regarded by his peers and cutting-edge jazz critics, but his music was considered inaccessible by the mainstream — his abstract, shadowy, percussive and spacious style was far from the exultant, hard and fast-swinging bebop of his most popular contemporaries. Monk had been experiencing poor record sales, did residencies at the Five Spot Cafe in the East Village, changed labels, had some minor trouble with the law and would soon sign to Columbia and record the highest-selling album of his career — Monk’s Dream.
Yesterday, Ann Price of Little Rock, Arkansas wrote, “You’ve written a lot about doing versus talking, and how speech inhibits creativity. I’ve been a talker since infancy. My parents swore I spoke sentences by six months. These days I’m repeatedly blocked creatively by my own verbal overload. Have you ever met someone who successfully made the switch from talker to doer?”
A guru once told me about an idea she called, “compassionate witness.” “When we bear witness,” she said, “we lovingly give our attention to another.” She told me the greatest gift I could give my friends was understanding — to let them know I saw their struggles and their triumphs and I recognized the effort they put in to achieve their dreams. She also said that when I allowed another to be my witness, I gave myself the freedom to be known.
Up here in Alaska at the American Bald Eagle Festival, one of my fellow presenters is Glen Browning. Glen’s giving a course in digital wildlife photography, as well as demonstrating — from start to finish — his methodology for mounting an immature female Goshawk. I asked Glen how he came to be one of the world’s most respected — and busy — bird taxidermists. When it comes to turning a passion into success, it’s the sort of story I’ve heard before.
Dear Artist, Last month, director Martin Scorsese, when asked in an interview what he thought…
Here at the American Bald Eagle Festival in Haines, Alaska, releasing eagles back to the wild is part of the program. This year there are five. Wounded or sick birds that have been revived by local animal shelters are brought here for this purpose. A prominent Chilkat Chief of the Raven Clan released one at dawn today. Dressed in full regalia — button blanket and traditional wooden hat — he said a few words in the Tlingit language. Then, on the count of three, he threw the bird into the air.
This past summer, a few months before his 70th birthday, Bruce Springsteen released his 19th studio album. Western Stars he said, would be a character-driven collection of songs that spoke to the themes that had always driven his work — the loneliness of the highway, the cowboy sky, isolation, family and work, and life’s small miracles that keep us going. Set in California and reminiscent of the 1960s anthems of some of his childhood musical heroes and orchestrated with sweeping, elegiac string arrangements, Springsteen’s stories are laid out as a metaphor for an artist’s quest and the quiet, inward revelations that arrive in life’s last chapters.