In the jargon of the critic or art historian “serious artist” is often equated with “important.” I’ve always taken it to mean something else — someone who takes his or her work seriously.
If you accept this latter definition then the idea of quality is left out. An artist may struggle for a lifetime of seriousness in a morass of inadequacy. Top notch work is illusive, even for us geniuses. This thought is so depressing that it has been known to drive some people into chartered accountancy.
Blessed are those who live in the minutiae of obsession, pressing passion, standing somewhere on the high moral ground of creativity, going about their business. When you add the expectation of quality the game takes on an even richer dimension: inventing, undoing, redoing — demanding and serious work for anyone. It’s so rewarding I’m sure if it were easy everyone would be doing it.
If there is one creative device that this sort of life requires, it’s the space and time to be alone with your mind. We need a private space of retreat where we can be one with our self-directed progress. This is an earned privilege — as much a state of mind as a place of being — a place to be serious.
PS: “I believe in my work and the joy of it. You have to be with the work and the work has to be with you. It absorbs you totally and you absorb it totally. Everything must fall by the wayside by comparison.” (Louise Nevelson) “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” (Annie Dillard)
Esoterica: Serious: Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) one of the celebrated founders of Dada, contributed “ready-made art” such as a bottle rack and a urinal. The latter was exhibited in 1917 under the title of “Fountain” and signed R. Mutt. The last forty years of Duchamp’s life were largely devoted to chess.
This letter was originally published as Serious artist” on July 11, 2000.