December 10


Some basic conditions for doing art

An absolute belief in your right to speak. No one can silence me; I do not need the audience’s approval. People can dislike my work, of course, people can inform me that it’s crap. But I don’t ask for permission to express myself.

Standards as high as you can bear. I do not deserve anything; I will never seek to be good “enough”. I accept most criticism (articulate criticism at least) and try to forget praise. I am pompous and proud in that I ignore what people tell me about myself, and listen doubtfully to any directions they set for me. I am humble and weak in that I constantly agree that my art is unfinished, undeveloped. I am constantly re-creating it, and as a creator, what I create is not me. I ruin to improve it; abandon it to head on.

Mastery of technique. Jazz musicians have dozens of jazz “standards”, pieces they must know before they can be taken seriously. Writers should feel a twinge of shame every time they come across a word they don’t know. A mathematician friend once commented, “The thing about the great theoreticians, when you look into their lives: they all had a perfect and fearless calculation ability”: They could go off on their high pathways sure that they would never add a minus sign in the wrong place. How can a poet write free verse if he or she cannot write a sonnet? You cannot experiment on stage if you cannot do a proper sound check…

Endless practice. We must write, play, sing, paint, dance all the time. The saddest pompost is the man who thinks his temperament is artistic enough to allow him to pick up a pen once a week. Every day that I do not write, unless I have a good reason for the break, I should congratulate myself on my confidence. Clearly, I think I am more talented than all the famous writers who worked harder than I am now.

Bringing inside. Reading Tennessee Williams; praying to the Iliad; listening to Mendelssohn; watching the Simpsons; gazing at burning forests in Provence… Discussion with cleverer friends; getting to sleep on time, as much as you can.

An interest in perfection. It is far more cool to be a musician than to try to make  music. It is much more preferable to be a “naturally good writer” than to try to write good things. The latter teaches you that 24 hours are never enough, that you are never enough; that you were born half cooked, that you are an excuse for the man you can imagine, and yet you must use the equipment you have found, you must use the hours you have.



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  • Yes! Pain is good for art…. by that definition I’m bound to be a bloody good artist by now.

  • You forgot….be prolific. Studies have shown that great artists are not statistically any better at producing good stuff than crappy ones…but they produce soooo much stuff that they produce more great stuff.


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