Do It Again.

tag1Earlier this week I went to a talk by Julian Barnes. He read his story The Silence about the last years of Sibelius’s life. I didn’t realize Sibelius wrote seven symphonies and then went silent for nearly thirty years, although Barnes said “about seventeen seconds” of an 8th symphony does exist. As far as is known he wrote very little during that period, although one night late in his life Sibelius’s wife found him burning manuscripts.

Barnes said that made him think about the point in any artist’s career when they should give up because everything after that is going to be “repetition and diminution”. And there have been other cases of artists who created extraordinary work then simply walked away. At thirty-six Duchamp turned his attention almost entirely to chess. Rimbaud wrote more poetry than some poets will produce in their lifetimes before he was twenty-one then walked away from it.

Because I think of art as a compulsion the idea of artists who just quit is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around. And this raises an even tougher question: when artists are known do they feel greater pressure to evolve, to not do the same thing again and again? Or do anonymous artists feel the same pressure to keep challenging themselves? And I realize it must vary from artist to artist.

It’s an interesting question for me because I see a lot of repetition in graffiti. Artists create a distinctive tag that doubles as their work and their signature. They get known by repeating the same thing again and again. Because so many are anonymous, though, it’s tough to track how many change, how many evolve, and how many challenge themselves to keep doing something new.

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5 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I really have to read more Julian Barnes. Always glad to read you, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      If you’re wondering where to start I highly recommend A History Of The World In 10 & 1/2 Chapters for its strange and unsettling humor.

      Reply
      1. Ann Koplow

        I’ve read it and loved it, a time and 1/2 ago.

        Reply
  2. Sarah

    I am new to blogging and discovered you through Half a 1000 Miles. I’m so glad I did, because you are an excellent writer! I like your sense of humor and you take on thought provoking topics. (The music videos at the end of some of your posts are a great touch, too.) 🙂 I’m quite jealous that you heard Julian Barnes speak. And, you’ve got me thinking now about the pressures artists put on themselves. It really is something when people can just walk away from something like art. (It doesn’t seem like the urge to be creative is easily put aside, completely?) Anyway, I’m excited to read more of your work! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Welcome and thank you. And you’ve got me thinking about the pressures artists put on themselves–something I really didn’t think about as I was writing this post. I was thinking of how much the desire to create is internal, a drive, but now you have me thinking about how artists feel both an internal pressure to create and an external pressure to make what they create as good as it can be.
      And Julian Barnes was as funny and erudite as you’d expect. Maybe I shouldn’t say more. I don’t want to sound like I’m rubbing it in.

      Reply

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