At the insistence of Hananah, I’ve been reading Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, and as promised by Hananah, it is not your average writing advice book.
Read the following:
After I read this, I did feel comfort. I felt assured that I needed to stop worrying and just keep writing. I almost wrote “trying” there and stopped. What am I trying for? What if no one publishes my work? What if I’m kind of mediocre with nothing interesting to say or no clever way to say it? Fine. But I’m going to keep writing, so what the hell.
But then Shapiro included a sentence that made me pause. She wrote, “Very possibly only a writer would find the notion of no satisfaction whatever at any time enormously comforting” (118).
I stopped and thought, “Only a writer?”
I don’t know. I do know that my husband is a singer/songwriter. We’ve had a lot of discussions about art as the pursuit of perfection, which is by human nature impossible. Sisyphus! It always comes back to Sisyphus, no? *shakes fist at sky*
I decided to ask some of my other artist friends. I wanted to know how this notion of no satisfaction made them feel. So I asked a screenwriter/actor, singer/songwriter, illustrator/visual artist, and choreographer/dancer.
I would argue that the screenwriter is the “closest” thing to “writer” as Shapiro was using the word. So I asked my friend, Ted Welch. You may have seen him in the movie, The Help, or on various television shows including True Blood. We’ve known each other since middle school and acted in a high school play together. My very favorite NYC memory is going to the city for the first time ever and watching the stage production, The Chrome Warrior, written and performed by Ted (and crew) in a small theater just off of Times Square.
When I asked Ted to read this passage, he wrote back, “I like this.” Which I think can be summed up as “Yup.” No question. Ted could relate. It’s that simple. I was glad to know someone else felt like I did.
You can see some of Ted’s work here on The Squirrel and Donkey Show:
The next person I asked was Chad Rodgers, a talented singer/songwriter/bassist who is currently in the Nashville band Lauren Strange and the Pretty Killers. He was best man in my wedding. You have heard Chad’s songwriting work. Trust me. If you know any top 40 in the last 10 years, you’ve heard Chad’s work.
Chad both agreed and disagreed with this passage. He agreed that “it is the artist’s responsibility not to be overly judgmental[…]only to keep creating for the sake of creation”; however, he disagreed that “an artist cannot be satisfied with his or her own creation.” He went on to say that he is proud of some of his work. (As he should be. Not to mention that people have rewarded him with money. Like, green paper sporting heads of presidents and the heads of men mistaken for presidents.)
See Chad in this video I took at The Row in Nashville. My favorite Chad song:
Next, I asked an illustrator/visual artist, Ashley Turner. Aside from being stunningly gorgeous and appearing in Band Perry videos [see: Better Dig Two], Ashley is a talented artist who I have written about before in this blog. In fact, it was my most vulnerable blog to date, and Ashley is just the type of person I would feel comfortable pulling into a blog that personal. I’ve known her since I dated her brother. Many years. She did a combined portrait of my son and my terrier in homage to Picasso’s Boy with a Dog. I have had people see that portrait in my house, ask for her information, and commission her immediately.
Ashley gave an answer that made me pause. Perhaps she had thought about this more deeply than I had. She said, “While I understand (and agree with) parts of Graham’s argument, I think that artists are more than channels. I think self-criticism IS the business of the artist whether or not the world supports the artist’s views.”
Well, damn. Good point.
See Ashley’s work at http://www.ashleyturnerart.com
Lastly, I asked my dear bosom buddy, Leah Harwell. Leah is an award-winning choreographer and legacy to Nashville Dance Center, a talent giant in the dance competition world. Leah and I met three-and-a-half years ago, in the same neighborhood with baby girls the same age. She’s the type of friend who you might as well have known all of your life. Time being irrelevant.
I was very interested to ask Leah since the passage is actually about choreography. Leah responded that the passage was spot on, but she has really struggled with accepting the notion of no satisfaction. She said, “Some of my favorite pieces, that meant the most to me and were toughest to create, were not as well-received as others that I threw together and didn’t like as much.” This makes it difficult to trust herself.
That makes sense. And it’s terrifying. How do you keep creating if you don’t trust yourself? The whole point of art is the noble pursuit of perfection, right? Right? According to Michelangelo anyway. I don’t even know anymore. I don’t even know the point. What’s the point?!?!?!?!
Cue this quote by Joan Didion: “The point itself seems increasingly obscure.”
I guess the point is not the point. [Goddamn, that’s genius. Somebody, write that down.] I guess we are moved to create, or recreate, that which we have felt but don’t know how to express. I guess we are trying to process human experience by translating that experience. I guess we are trying to make something beautiful both in spite of the world and because of it.
So, is Shapiro right or wrong that only writers get comfort from the notion of no satisfaction? It looks like she might be right, but…
Does it matter? Cue Nietzsche?
Naw. I’ll save you Nietzsche. Instead, I’ll leave you with Leah’s fine choreography as captured in this video by The Apache Relay. I could ask her how she feels about this video, but right now, I just want to watch it. Regardless of how she feels, something special happened here.
And we love it when that happens.