Wednesday, December 5, 2007

his breakthrough

So much for having no curiosity, or not caring about a story, etc. I have now reached the stage in the novel in which Eugene Witla, the “Genius,” has an art dealer over to see his work. Over the past few years he’s scrapped by as an illustrator, but has slowly built up a body of work – 26 oil paintings.

There are all these negatives in front of him: it will cost way too much, even if the dealer likes it at all. And it is unlikely that they will like it, they are already overbooked and overcommitted, etc., etc.

We all, to some degree, know this moment of holding your breath and taking on what looks like a bleak situation. But you’re an artist and you live on dreams and so, you have no choice.

And then comes this gorgeous flood of encouragement, that the work is singular, that there’s nothing quite like it, that you have a great future. “…I will call them to the attention of those who know. I will speak to those who buy. It is an honor, I assure you, to do this. For you are an artist in every sense of the word – I might say a great artist.”

The waters are parting. Eugene can hardly hear it, can hardly believe it. In plain fashion, he can only manage to say yes, he thought they might be good. But his new wife feels and expresses enough for both of them. Tears welled to her eyes as the dealer catches them. By this time I was crying too.

10 comments:

m. said...

"But you’re an artist and you live on dreams..."

sort of like:

"Oregon or bust..."

Anonymous said...

Ok m., you've got me stumped a bit. Do you mean the pioneers...?

E

m. said...

real artists are pioneers, yes, that's what i'm saying.

'oregon or bust' is a strong example* because those pioneers were heading west which is, in many cases, a metaphorical symbol for the unknown...

and the unknown is a precipice upon which artists teeter on a day to day basis...

so when we actually arrive at a destination--be it the physical manifestation of a body of work or the acquisition of a gallery--and are allowed to rest for five minutes before setting out on yet another journey complete with new cliffs upon which to teeter...

well, is it any wonder that a tear comes to the eye...

(*that is, if we can momentarily suspend our disbelief and strip it of its ugly 'manifest destiny' implications...)

m. said...

btw, speaking of rereading things, i reread //nightwood// and there is no mention of robin being an artist, though she is definitely a bohemian and it is still great chit lit (especially considering that i think it was first published in the 1930s).

i guess in the more than fifteen years since i read it the two 'occupations' became one in my mind somehow...

anyway, my apologies for the aside. just didn't want anyone to get to excited about it being about a chick who's an artist...

m. said...

"to get to excited.."

ha!! as typos go, i like that one. as if excited were a destintation...barnes must be creeping up on me...her prose style is singular and completely fckd...or maybe i just need more coffee...

anyway. more apologies for the addt'l aside...

where were we...??

ah yes. the breakthrough.

the intersection of the dream and reality. where the narrative you've been threading together with twigs and bits of string all your life threatens to transform itself into a proper life, silk threads and all...

which is all fantastic, fabulous, marvelous...

but something has been nagging me just the same which is perhaps why i am slumming around with all these asides...

and it is this.

this particular breakthrough is not the artist quitting a life-sucking job for one that leaves room for art or leaving a lover who does nothing but belittle his artistic endeavors or being inspired by something greater than anything before or manifesting something in his studio...

the breakthrough that is happening here is external validation with a hint of a promise of money which may or may not support the artist via his art...the latter still belonging to the realm of dreams at this point in the story...

so what do we think about this external validation...? is the breakthrough about the words 'great artist' being mentioned by someone who 'matters?' is it about money? is it about reaching a wider audience?

what exactly is this particular breakthrough about?

Anonymous said...

Well, I am very much in the middle of this part of the story, so I cannot as yet say what it will all mean.

For me, this "breakthrough" was about validation and belief, not so much a style or merit. But that is important...

How often does anyone of great authority (he was Eugene's biggest, loftiest pick for an art dealer) say to anyone: "I will do whatever I can for you. You are a great artist." I mean, the guy is not a friend. He's a pro.

If I was not an artist who had worked for years and had my own struggles, the scene might not have been so significant to me.... Was it, I wonder, when I read the book years ago? I don't recall. I don't think so. If you a reader has different experiences to bring to the table, maybe this scene will not appear as such a radical breakthrough.

A professional breakthrough, not so much one of vision. His work is described from the outside in, not the other way around. The writer does not describe Eugene's inner turmoil - if there is any. What we read is that Eugene paints life as it is - dirty, sometimes foul, with mud and ash....

Obviously these are references to the Ashcan school. The book refers to Sargent or Homer, I have noticed, but not Robert Henri or George Bellows, who were Ashcan artists.

BUT... I have also read that the "Genius" refers very much to the career of Dreiser himself, who was a cruel realist in many ways. The brutal facts. And so perhaps this sort of breakthrough might have been one he had in publishing.

Eva

m. said...

"I mean, the guy is not a friend. He's a pro...A professional breakthrough, not so much one of vision. His work is described from the outside in, not the other way around..."

fair enough. if an artist is to survive on art at a professional level, at some point they're going to need one of these...maybe even a few of them scattered about at different points in their career...

i guess what i'm really asking is: are they any more or less important than purely artistic breakthroughs...

or is that question even important...?

one feeds the other literally, the other figuratively, so as long as each neighbor stays on their side of the fence and doesn't meddle in the other's business, all's well, i suppose...

Anonymous said...

Maybe "his breakthrough" wasn't a great title for the post. I hemmed and hawed over it.

He's someone who walked everywhere and found it all fascinating, so he records it. Back in that day, it was a new thing. So maybe he does have an artistic breakthrough but it is told through a long, deliberating story, one that is about people as much as it is about events or objects.

I do believe that encouragement from someone who "matters" can be a pivotal event in one's life. Sometimes all it can take, literally, is one person. Even if they never do a thing for you, as the dealer does for Eugene, they can persuade you to do things for yourself...
E

m. said...

"I hemmed and hawed over it."

if it's not already obvious, i'm hemming and hawing too. it's a tough topic. but an apt enough title, i think...

and this:

"I do believe that encouragement from someone who 'matters' can be a pivotal event in one's life. Sometimes all it can take, literally, is one person. Even if they never do a thing for you, as the dealer does for Eugene, they can persuade you to do things for yourself..."

reminds me of a favorite quote from emerson:

"A true friend is somebody who can make us do what we can."

as insular as i try to stay with my studio practice at my inner core, there are a few, as you call it, pivotal people who can reach me because i let them in as trusted critics. people who i know to have my best interests at heart and who also know how to tell their varying truths directly and openly...

and yes, there have been moments when they have seen me teetering and given me the push i needed to do what i knew i needed to do...

as for 'external' people who 'matter' i suppose i have had some of that along the way as well...

and that has also made a difference...

though the real steam, i think, must come from within, and, in the end, so must the validation.

which is not to say i don't resonate with the original post...quite the opposite, in fact...

it's just that when that kind of resonance happens i need to sort it out...see what it's made of...and make sure that i'm not living for those kinds of moments, but rather, that those moments are there to serve the practice as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Well, that might be something I need to work on. Because it still means a lot to me. It doesn't change what I make or how I make it, but it definitely makes an impact on how I feel that day. For better or worse - probably not a good thing.
E