Thursday, February 12, 2015

dear Vivian

The story about you today at the News Hour was good, you’d agree, but ultimately clueless. I attached a long “Comment” to the website transcript, but there’s no link for that, so I’m archiving it here:
Was it masquerading?

This wonderful story of a wonderful artist highlights trying “to understand how a brilliant photographer was able to lead this sort of secret life while masquerading really daily as a nanny for over five decades,...”

There are at least three dimensions or modes to this issue. Firstly, what’s a woman artist to do in her era?

Yet, whatever the era, any devoted artist knows that primarily you have to do the art, surviving any way you can, which includes not thinking unrealistically of the art vis-à-vis a market, i.e., as the means of supporting the artist’s life of doing the art. (Marketing is itself a full-time job.)

“The starving artist” is largely a myth because the artist got to being the artist by learning how to survive. She does not starve. He does what it takes. The life is supported “now” by whatever will do that; and that gains its own inertia, becoming its own mode of life, easier and easier to continue doing, protecting the integrity of the artistry by not catering to what sells.

Secondly, self is always in performance—a theme common to performing arts, yet also normal in business (where “marketing” yourself becomes second nature). In all events, we have multiple identities: Being a parent (or a nanny) is just different than being in one’s profession. All writing is performance. Delivering the news on camera is a persona that doesn’t “lose it” while reporting heartbreaking loss or heinous crime. We are all performance artists, protecting the heart of the actor across gigs.

Moreover, the compelled artist may well not want to afford time to represent the art to others, when time to do the art is scarce (and casually interested others risk making the artistry seem simulacral). So, the life of artistry remains secret—not as a matter of syndrome, rather as a matter of priorities. And scaled up to years, the secrecy becomes a way of life: ensuring maximal freedom and integrity through anonymity.

Thirdly, a common theme of philosophy is how to balance self-interested and socially-reliable life—the aesthetic and the ethical—because it’s so common to be challenged by the difference. Kierkegaard’s authorship is just the most overt instance of living liminality between The Aesthetic and The Ethical (his turning the challenge into the substance of the authorship).

One’s ownmost loves are easily more than what cherished loves with others can accomodate. Sometimes, the calling of art is too high and deep to risk having one’s own family. Dramatic failure to appreciate this gives us the profitable stories of broken marriages or transience on the road. But the norm may be the secret life that escapes becoming biographer’s material, discovery of which is the exception.