A thoughtful reader has challenged me to offer a more particular definition of what I consider “junk.”  And in time I will try to do so, because having raised the issue myself, I ought to be willing to face it squarely.  But until such time, I would refer readers to the previous post where I criticize the work of Ellsworth Kelly, who I put forth as representative of the artist-as-charlatan.  I do so boldly from the sense that Mr. Kelly himself is unlikely to stumble upon my remarks and is therefore in little danger of having his feelings hurt.  Or, even if he were to read them — “famous” as he has become, he cannot expect everyone to gush about what he does.  Obviously he has critics, as assuredly he’s aware.  If one cannot take the heat (as we all know), one has the admonition to stay out of the kitchen.  Right?

Now then, to more pressing concerns:  self-confidence.  What about the artist who fears that his own works are junk?  What about the over-fastitious individual who cannot accept the merits of what he does, who is overly critical, who is perhaps crippled by a sense of failure?  Sometimes highly talented people — just the sort who we’d expect to be “great” artists, are of this type.  So what about them?

Van Gogh had perhaps the best answer when he said, “if you hear a voice telling you you cannot paint, then paint My Boy, and that voice will be silenced.”  Van Gogh heard that voice.  He fought that voice, which sounded in his own head.  The paintings he left — in their great beauty and brightness — are the answers he gives us. 

The cure for a lack of confidence is work.  Just do it.


4 thoughts on “What if

  1. What if… It is a very good question. Self-confidence is good as long as it will not turn into something else.

    Regarding the junk and good art, I feel compelled to post a few paragraphs from an excellent story by N.V. Gogol called The Portrait.

    The following is from the Part 1 of the story:

    Pure, faultless, beautiful as a bride, stood the picture before him.The critics regarded this new hitherto unknown work with a feeling of involuntary wonder. All seemed united in it: the art of Raphael, reflected in the lofty grace of the grouping; the art of Correggio, breathing from the finished perfection of the workmanship. But more striking than all else was the evident creative power in the artist’s mind. The very minutest object in the picture revealed it; he had caught that melting roundness of outline which is visible in nature only to the artist creator, and which comes out as angles with a copyist. It was plainly visible how the artist, having imbibed it all from the external world, had first stored it in his mind, and then drawn it thence, as from a spiritual source, into one harmonious, triumphant song. And it was evident, even to the uninitiated, how vast a gulf there was fixed between creation and a mere copy from nature. Involuntary tears stood ready to fall in the eyes of those who surrounded the picture. It seemed as though all joined in a silent hymn to the divine work.

    He shut himself up alone in his room, would order no food, and devoted himself entirely to his work. He sat toiling like a scholar. But how pitifully wretched was all which proceeded from his hand! He was stopped at every step by his ignorance of the very first principles: simple ignorance of the mechanical part of his art chilled all inspiration and formed an impassable barrier to his imagination. His brush returned involuntarily to hackneyed forms: hands folded themselves in a set attitude; heads dared not make any unusual turn; the very garments turned out commonplace, and would not drape themselves to any unaccustomed posture of the body. And he felt and saw this all himself.

    “But had I really any talent?” he said at length: “did not I deceive myself?” Uttering these words, he turned to the early works which he had painted so purely, so unselfishly, in former days, in his wretched cabin yonder in lonely Vasilievsky Ostroff. He began attentively to examine them all; and all the misery of his former life came back to him. “Yes,” he cried despairingly, “I had talent: the signs and traces of it are everywhere visible–”

    I encourage you to read at least part 1 of the story translated from Russian to English here:


  2. Kitsume

    Wow. What a fabulous quote. I’ll have to read the Gogol story.
    It reminds me of a similar story, by Honore de Balzac, “The Unknown Masterpiece,” (Le Chef d’oeuvre inconnu) which was very important to Cezanne.


    Glancing at this wikipedia article to refresh my memory I see the “La Belle noiseuse” — you mentioned that in an earlier comment, didn’t you? As a movie? I’ll have to revisit your earlier comment.

    In Gogol’s story, “The very minutest object in the picture revealed [the artist’s creative power].” In Balzac’s story, it’s the opposite. The artist works relentlessly on a portrait that he is certain has achieved a perfection as near to life as one could make. But his companions looking at the painting can see nothing, just a confusion of paint with — in one corner, something that looks like a woman’s toe.

    Isn’t that interesting? The stories sound like book ends.

    Well, I suppose timidity and self-confidence each have their perils. What shall we do?

    Ooh, la, la. The search continues …..

    Meanwhile, thank you,

  3. Yes, La Belle Noiseuse is inspired by this story, but the film is somewhat different. If you do plan to see it, keep in mind that it is 237 min and plan accordingly.

    What shall we do? We shall strive for balance.

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