Calm in the face of fate
Thomas Mann, in the short story Death In Venice, describes the pre-requisite for great art as “Composure in the face of fate: calm in the midst of torment.” I love this and I identify with it completely.
I never felt physically equipped for the arduous task of working on great art. I was weedy, always sickly, feeble-sighted. I was often ill and away from school for long periods. My lungs were bad, my head and ears blocked, my joints painful.
The journey I went on was a journey to overpower, to overcome, to overwhelm this frailty and to become strong, enormous, powerful, tireless and most of all to look out at the world and not in on my pain. I decided not to struggle but to win. I became outwardly ambitious but inwardly calm and selfless. I tried to become a star. I nearly did. But I didn’t want to become a star. I wanted to stave off my own despair and the despair of others by championing their gifts.
Perhaps eventually I did learn some things about artists which helped me to help them. That’s still what I like to do most.
Here’s what it comes down to so far:
Artistic achievement is always despite:
Despite physical frailty, despite political repression, despite contemporary unpopularity, despite personal trauma or tragedy, despite poverty, despite obligation, despite war, despite famine, despite despair or loneliness. And the great artistic works do not express what they came about despite. they express rather the opposite, the antidote, the balm, the lotion. Medicine applied first to the artist by the artist and then by transference – publication – to the wider world.
And for this artistry to be successful it can’t be contrived. There has to be a natural confluence between the feelings and needs of the artist and that of the wider generation at that time and place.
I want you to share this understanding even if you are not an artist by trade or by calling. There are truths that artists uncover, grap out of the air and set down, clean up, organise and take along to the antiques road show of life to be appraised by an expert.
"The fact is I don’t care who you are. you’ve got something unique there. You probably didn’t know that you might be the only one with this perticualr thing. Was it a gift by the way? Yes well you’re very lucky. It could be worth many thousands of pounds”
Think about it and rise above the weakness and fear and do it. You’ll be really good.