I just read about this essay, which has apparently caused quite a stir “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.”
Apparently there are some blog posts which refer to this piece “blowing up the internet,” which is hilarious. The vast (like, vaster than vast) majority of people on the internet don’t know anything about this, wouldn’t care if they did know, and have no idea what an “MFA” is anyway. (Create an online survey to find out what people think those initials mean, and I guarantee that the majority of the responses won’t be publishable in the New York Times. 🙂 )
But the interesting thing is that apparently, in some small corners of the web, this has created quite a stir. What’s striking to me is how much this piece sounds like things my mother used to say.
She was a long-time professional in the fine arts field, and she definitely thought that there were very few artists capable of producing really great art, and anybody who could be discouraged should be.
She used to tell a story about a painter (I forget his name) who was so broke at one point that he couldn’t afford paint, so he created art with things he found around his house.
That was what real artists did, in her estimation — make art no matter what.
And she was not cynical or bitter at all — as long as she was able to get around she would go to galleries and museums, often raving about what she was seeing there. When we watched movies together, sometimes she would talk about them for hours afterwards, and sometimes she’d be so moved that she could barely speak, and sometimes one and then the other.
As far as I can recall, she didn’t think much of the idea of going to school to learn how to make art. Her idea was that you experience art, think about it, and then figure out what you can do.
One thing she emphasized was that everybody starts with different equipment. In one of our last conversations about art, she said that what a lot of people don’t understand about painting is that it comes fundamentally from the hand, the wrist, the arm, and the whole body — and no two people’s bodies are the same.
(This reminded me of Elton John, who said that his style of piano playing was based on the fact that he had short, stubby fingers.)
And she did not mean that your Limitations were an Obstacle to Overcome. Limitations are what makes art possible, and your tools are your tools, and they change over time.
At the end of her life, she was figuring out how to adapt and make art since her hands always shook.