Tag Archives: Raymond Carver

Pursuit of Perfection in the Arts

Masks representing theater (blue and redActor Lord Laurence Olivier aimed at perfect performances, as did Peter O’Toole, Olivier’s successor as the world’s greatest actor–the perfect performances in the perfect tragedies as the perfect characters–as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, or Iago. One night Olivier felt that he had achieved perfection in a performance. Others in the cast also told him he had.  He said, “What I’m thinking is I’ve done it, but will I be able to do it again?” Perfection is difficult and rare. It is hard to repeat. It is a concept that grows in importance to artists as their skills and accomplishments ascend to high levels.

In her essay “Dancers and the Dance” Susan Sontag states that dance differs from the other performing arts. The standards which dancers measure their performance against is not that of the highest excellence as it Is with actors, singers, and musicians. Sontag believes that the dancer’s standard is perfection. She says, “Every serious dancer is driven by notions of perfection–perfect expression, perfect technique.”

Sontag says that dance demands more of the dancer than any other art or any sport demands.  She writes, “While the daily life of every dancer is a full-time struggle against fatigue, strain, natural physical limitations and those due to injuries (Which are inevitable) dance itself is an enactment of an energy which must seem, in all respects, untrammeled, effortless, at every moment fully mastered.” When performing, dancers must hide their pain behind a performing smile. Injuries must be hidden. The dancer’s performance smile is “a categorical denial of what he or she is actually experiencing.” Behind the grace of the dancers is much discomfort and pain they endure while training themselves for such performances and while performing.

A male and a female ballet dancersIt is true that serious dancers currently and throughout history have aimed at perfection, but other artists–usually the best in the art, those that are aware that they have a significant talent–also aim for perfection in their work, I believe. Those who do aim for perfection in their novels, musical composition, and paintings and other art works let it be known through their obsessions with their work that they are extremely serious about their art, and are willing to face its challenges with drive and commitment.

The urge for perfection begins, I think, with a niggling, Then the artists become increasingly aware after a number of works have been produced and (usually  but not always) thousands of hours have been put in,  that perfection is within their reach and not merely a remote fantasy–that THEY–Faulkner, Picasso, Stravinsky, Cassatt, Proust, Cezanne, and Virginia Woolf–have  what it takes.

To be an artist seeking perfection you have to possess art-relevant traits that will equip you for a creative life. If your ambition is perfection, and you are not self-critical and self-demanding, you will have problems. The artist aiming to produce perfect works has to be self-critical, always looking for faults in the works and in themselves that will have to be corrected. When Sontag had praised a dancer for a superb performance she heard “a disconsolate litany of mistakes that were made–a beat missed, a foot not pointed in the right way.” Sontag adds: “In no other art can one find a comparable gap between what the world thinks of a star and what the star thinks about himself or herself, between the adulation that pours in from the outside and the relentless dissatisfaction that goads one from within….Part of being a dancer is this cruelly self-punishing objectivity about one’s shortcomings, as viewed from the perspective of an ideal observer, one more exacting than any real spectator could ever be.”

Intense concentration is necessary too if you hope to produce a perfect artistic performance; this is true of every art. All you need do is look at the intensity of the eyes of an artist painting, or a writer at the keyboard to realize that. Everything in the artist’s mind that is not needed for the artistic performance is ignored, and only what the performance requires is brought into attention.  Anyone who produces great works that are the result of the mind in action such as archers, mathematicians, and artists of unrivaled talent like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov project a state of extreme (yet also relaxed) focus. Sontag says that state is not just something that is necessary for a great performance, but, “It is the performance, the very center of it.”

Painting of Frank SinatraWhen they are watching the performance of a play what the audience hopes to see more than anything else is a virtuoso performance they will not be able to forget however long they live and how many plays they see. The virtuoso performance is the single most exciting and popular feature not only of drama but of any art, and the most thrilling feature of a virtuoso performance is not the possibility that the artist may fail. Rather, it is the spectacle of succeeding in an extraordinary way–a performance that is perfect because it has no errors. All the time I am listening to music as I do all day long or reading a narrative I think is great such as James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” and Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” I am thinking, “Keep it up James and Frank. Don’t fail. Continue being great until the story or the song is finished and perfect from the beginning to the end”

Playwright Eugene O’Neill, America’s greatest and most innovative dramatist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936.  Long Day’s Journey into Night was his masterpiece. One of his experiments was revealing the characters’ interior  monologue. Another was making the speech of poor, uneducated characters a part of the drama. Another Nobel Prize winner–Saul Bellow–who said that writing was more important than his wife and children–aimed to write perfectly. A third Nobel Prize winner–Ernest Hemingway–made no secret that his aim was to produce perfect works and be the greatest writer in the world. Many critics believe he accomplished that goal. Writer Joan Didion thought his every sentence was written with such craftsmanship that it was perfect.  Many critics, teachers, and writers consider the short stories and plays of Anton Chekhov, the founding father of modern theatre, and the leading prose writer of his era, perfect. It is hard to tell what a Chekhov story or play “means” because he does not judge or clarify meanings; meanings are left to the reader or audience.

Perfection in the arts is always attributable to the personality of the artists that filters through their talent. The artist aiming to produce perfect works must keep the audience clearly in mind. Critic Gilbert Murray said that writers who have the powers of revelation are the ones who have experienced–seen or felt–more than the average run of intelligent beings. Behind every work, whether poor or great, are the tastes and the disposition of the person who created it, as well as a sensitivity to the audience. In the theatre the actor’s aim is through the performance to jolt the members of the audience–to please in a powerful way, to be accepted as though a friend, to lodge securely and permanently in their memory, displacing less important things.

The days and nights of everyday living of the artist seeking perfection must be filled to the brim with their art. More than likely, the artist has grown up with it, seen it mature, and watched it take over a good part of his or her being. Short story master Raymond Carver reflecting on his career put it this way: “conversation was fine, camaraderie was fine, making love was fine, raising a family was okay, but interfered with writing.”

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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Inspiration, Information, and Learnings For People In The Arts

Part 6 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3 Part 4, and Part 5

Pink and orange zinnias in impressionist style

Late Season Zinnias by Steven V. Ward

THE NATURE OF ARTISTS

  • “Artists shape the structure of their creative lives not by means of their gifts, but by means of their work. Production–to produce good works– is the artist’s overriding goal. Delicate creatures, when unable to produce works, they almost immediately fall into some form of self-doubt and then despair” (David J. Rogers).
  • “To possess and capture beauty (the artist) will do anything, use anything…be ruthless, murderous and destructive, cold and cruel and merciless…to get the thing he wants, achieve the thing he values” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • Berry branch with shadowy colored background

    Berry Shadows by Steven V. Ward

    “There is nothing we will not give to the person who can show us the undiscovered world within ourselves, for most of us are unaware of the possibilities we hold” (Seymour Krim).

  • “It is all in the art. You get no credit for living” (V.S. Pritchett)
  • “The hunger to succeed in spite of every impediment and the confidence that you can, along with skill, energy, focus, and the knack of overcoming obstacles have proven to be the key indicators of success in art” (David J. Rogers).

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

  • “The uninitiated imagine that one must await inspiration in order to create. That is a mistake. I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspiration; quite the opposite. It is found as a driving force in every kind of human activity, and is in no wise peculiar to artists. But that force is only brought into action by effort, and that effort is work” (Igor
    Pink flowers on impressionist background

    Spring Colors by Steven by Ward

    Stravinsky).

  • “It has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid” (Howard Gardner).
  • “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing works” (Marc Chagall).
  • “If he thought, he would go wrong; it is only the clumsy and uninventive artist who thinks) (John Ruskin).
  • “If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “Everything you can imagine is real” (Pablo Picasso).
  • “It is important to forget about the opinions of others and to write after your own fashion with careless, proud indifference” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • ”There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams (Anne Rice).
  • “Most creators know intuitively from the beginning of their serious work on a project what the final product will “feel” like. It may take weeks, months, or years to complete the work. But they’ve had from the beginning some sense of it. And that sense will guide them through the entire creative process” (David J. Rogers).
  • “Great artists feel as opportunity what others feel as a menace” (Kenneth Burke).
  • “A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted” (Samuel Butler).
Three white and pink lotus blossoms on blue background

Lotus Trio by Steven V. Ward

CREATORS’ WORK LIFE 

  • “Wake about seven thirty, have breakfast and am working by nine and usually work straight through until two p.m. After that it’s like living in a vacuum until working time next day” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have and advertising seems to do very little to the good” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “We should write our own thoughts in as nearly as possible the language we thought them in, as though in a letter to an intimate friend. We should not disguise them in any way” (Leo Tolstoy).
  • “When I write I feel like an artist. When I’m not writing I don’t feel like anything at all) (Saul Bellow).
  • “I work on whatever medium likes me at the moment” (Marc Chagall).
  • “They come and ask me what idea I meant to embody in Faust as if I knew myself and could inform them” (Goethe).
  • “Great artists have no consideration for anyone’s sleep. Left alone and working all night, they phone you at three or four in the morning to announce they’ve thought of something” (David J. Rogers).
  • “We all do better in the future” (Raymond Carver).
  • Yellow Wildflowers on an impressionis style background

    Yellow Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    “You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, and publicity” (Thomas Wolfe).

  • “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working” (Pablo Picasso)

I am pleased to again feature in this post artwork by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica.  Some of his work also appears in my post More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Turning Points In The Lives Of Creative People

From the time I was a little boy watching mystery movies I’ve waited for the first clue. From that point on the solution is just a matter of time. All fates are sealed with that clue.  I will watch movies over and over, waiting for that definitive clue. And then I’m thrilled.  In the same way, I can’t think of any time in my life I haven’t been intrigued by those events in peoples’ lives that started them on the course that would define them as human beings—the Turning Points in their lives. The first clue.

Why were they this and then became that? What happened?  I would like to know. That’s true now of artists whose lives fascinate me—writers, painters, sculptors, actors, ballet dancers, composers, musicians. Was it a lucky break or a bad break? A triumph or a failure?  An illness? A significant man or woman?  A teacher? A lover? A walk on a beach?  A birth, a death?

If you and I were ever to meet–how nice that would be–I’d ask you about yours. I think you would tell me that after the Turning Point you knew right turning-arrowaway you’d never be the same. You were facing in a new direction. Winds picked up and caught your sails and you set out to sea. You were on a quest and were experiencing the pouring-out of floods of creative thoughts. You’re confident that your quest is still leading to something though you might not be aware yet just where it will take you. You will have to see.

American Nobel Prize dramatist EUGENE O’NEILL’S Turning Point was a life-threatening illness. The son of a rich and famous actor, he quit college after a year, worked as a deck hand on ocean-going ships, drank heavily in various ports, and dissipated his life.

Then he experienced his Turning Point: “I just drifted along till I was twenty-four and then I got a jolt and sat up and took notice. Retribution overtook me and I went down with T.B. It gave me time to think about myself and what I was doing—or, better, wasn’t doing. I got busy writing one act plays…If I hadn’t had an attack of tuberculosis, if I hadn’t been forced to look at myself, while I was in the sanitorium, harder than I had ever done before I might not have become a playwright.” He would, he said, “Become an artist or nothing.” From that point on, his life was centered on, focused on, and organized around writing plays.

Writer RAYMOND CHANDLER’S Turning Point was getting fired from a high-paying executive job. For many years he drifted from job to job. He started in silhouette-144967_640business as an accountant and rose to the ranks of the director of eight oil corporations. He was called by some the best businessman in America. He drank so heavily that he started going off on his own on binges without telling anyone for weeks at a time and eventually was fired– the worst crisis of his life.

But while driving along California’s Pacific coast to a cabin where he planned to figure out what to do now, he stopped at a gas station and picked up reading material: copies of Black Mask, a magazine of hard-boiled detective stories. Reading them, he decided that he could write stories as good as those, and that’s what he did, starting a  writing career at age 44 that saw him establish himself as probably the greatest writer in that genre.

Self-taught VINCENT VAN GOGH’S Turning Point was reading a particular book. Before deciding to devote himself to art he wrote to his brother Theo: “I quite well remember that when you spoke at the time of my becoming a painter, I thought it was very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me cease vincent-van-gogh-self-portrait-1887to doubt was my reading a clear book on perspective, Cassagne’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with a stove, chair, table and window, in their place and on their legs, while before it had seemed to me witchcraft or pure chance to get depth and the right perspective in drawing. If you had only drawn one thing right, you would feel an irresistible longing to draw a thousand other things.”

Many creative people have Turning Points in childhood. They fall in love with some activity. Children who know what they are in love with and are pretty boy-paintingsure what they will be when they grow up are likely to be creative as adults.

At the age of eight Nobel writer SAUL BELLOW was hospitalized for half a year in the children’s ward. With boys and girls dying all around him he decided that his own survival was a near miracle; that he was “privileged” and that there was some form “of bookkeeping going on.”

He did his own mental bookkeeping and decided he “owed something to some entity for the privilege of surviving.” He believed he had “better make it worth the while of whoever it was that authorized all this.” In his twenties he turned to writing and went on to achieve all the highest literary awards. Until he died he thought it possible that he had “gotten away with something but that it had been by permission of some high authority.”

Short story specialist/poet RAYMOND CARVER’S Turning Point was meeting a teacher– being taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop by John Gardner and pen-27043_640being affected profoundly. Carver said that whatever Gardner had to say “went right into my blood stream and changed the way I looked at things…He took my stories more seriously… I was completely unprepared for the kind of criticism I received from him.”

Gardner taught Carver to be tough on himself, showing what is best about all good teachers. Through them you learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward your work.  You learn “taste.” At that point Carver and his wife Maryann shared the goal of Raymond not selling out his writing and not have him get involved in any career but writing. Not to forget that he was put on earth to be a great writer and for no other reason.

MARY CASSATT’S Turning Point midway in her paining career was the result mary-cassatt-89730_6401of a sequence of Turning Points: living in Paris, mingling with the French Impressionists, especially Edgar Degas, and becoming an Impressionist herself. But the single most important turning point for Cassatt was finding her true subject: mothers with their children.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’s Turning Point was deciding a college education wasn’t for him and landing a job as a journalist on the Kansas City Star.  Over the years the “Stars” editors had complied a book of 110 rules designed to force reporters to ernest-hemingway-401493_640use simple, plain, direct, cliché-free English, and those rules were strictly enforced. Hemingway’s writing style that revolutionized the way writing is done across the globe, was based on those very rules. He later called them, “the best rules I ever learned about writing.” He showed the first cable he ever wrote to fellow writer Lincoln Steffens and said, “Steffens, look at this cable: no fat, no adjectives, no adverbs…It’s a new language.”

Novelist THOMAS WOLFE’S Turning Point was submitting his first novel to Maxwell Perkins and Perkins becoming his editor. Perkins was the most acclaimed book editor of the twentieth century and thus far in the twenty-first. During the 1920s and 30s his Scribner’s writers included the greatest and most gifted working with one editor in the history of American publishing. They included, in addition to his protégé Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ring Lardner. Wolfe’s association with Perkins is the most celebrated author/editor relationship in American literature.

Wolfe was stupendously talented. But his main problems were his uncontrollable, obsessive verbosity and a chronic inability to cut that resulted in unedited manuscripts of fantastic lengths, three or four times longer than a publishable book could possibly be.

Those problems in turn were caused by Wolfe’s difficulty making any kind of vintage-typewriterindependent decisions. He didn’t know where or what to cut. He would stare for hours at the manuscript before eliminating a few sentences when his agreement with Perkins was that he would strike out tens of thousands–a hundred thousand—words. He would start by rereading the manuscript section by section, trying to find things that were unnecessary and could be omitted. But he was totally blind to them. He never in his entire career had a concept of a publishable book.

The day before Christmas, 1929 Wolfe wrote to Perkins: “One year ago I had little hope for my work, and I did not know you…. You are now mixed with my book in such a way that I can never separate the two of you. I can no longer think clearly of the time I wrote it, but rather of the time when you first talked to me about it, and when you worked upon it….You have done what I had ceased to believe that one person could do for another–you have created liberty and hope for me.” Wolfe wrote a note to Perkins: “In all my life, until I met you, I never had a friend.”

I doubt there’s ever been a great creator who after a Turning Point didn’t have a powerful sense of single-mindedness and an ability to persevere, face difficulties, and concentrate on reaching goals while resisting distractions.

And rarely, if ever, wandering off on tangents. High-powered focused attention is a result of Turning Points–the ability of the creator to be absorbed, caught up in, and wholly involved in his/her creative existence.

Do you remember your Turning Point?  Just look up from the screen now and reflect on when the first clue appeared in the mystery you call your life and you turned from this direction to that.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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