itʻs important to remember that EVERYONE has doubts about talent. Even the great ones…
Cezanne and his fear
Such beautiful art, such a remarkable vision. It seems impossible that such an artist would fear failure, doubt his gift. But he did, often.
He once said, “We all live in a rainbow of chaos.” Such poetry. But he also wrote, “God knows how the Old Masters got through those acres of work … I exhaust myself, work myself to death trying to cover fifty centimeters of canvas.”
Art is a discipline that takes us places we could never have predicted, could never go otherwise. As writers, that means we must have the courage to be transported by words, imperfect and compelling, into the place where we are more than we were before we began writing. In that place, always larger than the world we left behind, we canʻt help but feel a combination of exhilaration and doubt. What holds us up is the “rainbow of chaos.” What pulls us down is our own fear in the midst of discovery.
One of my favorite poets, Stephen Dobyns, wrote this poem about Cezanne:
“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”
from Body Traffic. (c) Penguin, 1990.
The End is the Means, and Vice Versa
What is to become of us, in our strange fragility, in our remarkable strength? In the end, the rollercoaster of feeling we ride is just part of the journey. We constantly stretch ourselves as writers and artists, so we move through uncertainties and celebrations as the price — and the reward — of simply being persistent.
We get there by going there, and the end (the poem, the painting, the memoir) is a process. Thatʻs why discipline and practice is so important. Good work happens when we choose, no matter what part of the rollercoaster weʻre experiencing, to write. The process and the product are ultimately the same thing; our art canʻt be lovely unless we love ourselves and our journey enough to face our own doubt and keep writing.