The Unsure Artist

10 Mar

I read this article on the bus today (look mom! I’m reading the Wall StreetJournal) and I thought it was good. Good enough to share.

“Don’t laugh. Few artists, no matter how celebrated they may be, are strangers to fear and uncertainty. No less a giant than John Keats died sure that “I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory,” and requested that the sentence “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” be engraved on his tombstone. Benjamin Britten, England’s greatest composer, suffered from similar pangs of self-doubt. “Artists are artists,” he said, “because they have an extra sensitivity—a skin less, perhaps, than other people.” Britten’s own skin was so thin that any criticism, however mild, could stop him in his tracks. (It also made him susceptible to attacks of stage fright so incapacitating that he threw up every time he had to play the piano in public.)”

“Why do such artists lack confidence in their own talent? Sometimes youthful trauma is to blame. In her preface to Mr. Hancock’s book, Rachel Edelson, Goodman’s daughter, writes that her father was “always fearful of losing the ability, reputation and money that he’d gained.” For a man who had lived in poverty as a child in Chicago, such fears could not simply be laughed off. In “The Kingdom of Swing,” his 1939 memoir, Goodman recalled “a couple of times when there wasn’t anything to eat. I don’t mean much to eat. I mean anything. This isn’t an experience you forget in a hurry. I haven’t ever forgotten it.” I wouldn’t be surprised if such memories were part of what drove Goodman to play Carnegie Hall, perhaps in the hope of proving that his virtuosity was “correct” enough to satisfy the most demanding of critics.”


One Response to “The Unsure Artist”

  1. Vintage Barbie March 10, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    Keats was right but not because he wasn’t the next Shakespeare. Our names are all writ in water (including Shakespeare’s). Consider all the sarcophagi of Medieval kings that are stacked up in Westminster Abbey like shoe boxes in the back of Oprah’s closet.

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