A natural style

When we encounter a natural style, Pascal says, we are surprised and delighted, because we expected to find an author and instead found a man.

James Wood

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An artist’s name

The ancient masters of Japanese art were allowed to change their name once in their lifetime. They had to be very selective about the moment in their career when they did so. They would stick with their given name until they felt they had become the artist they aspired to be; at that point, they were allowed to change their name. For the rest of their life, they could work under the new name at the height of their powers. The name change was a sign of artistic maturity.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Categories: Art · Creativity    Tags:

Resisting the present

To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present….

For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.

Alan Watts

Categories: Creativity · Writing    Tags: ·

Whose voice does the reader hear?

I don’t believe that poems are written to be heard, or as Mill said, to be overheard; nor are poems addressed to their reader. I believe that poems are a score for performance by the reader, and that you become the speaking voice. You don’t read or overhear the voice in the poem, you are the voice in the poem. You stand behind the words and speak them as your own — so that it is a very different form of reading from what you might do in a novel where a character is telling the story, where the speaking voice is usurped by a fictional person to whom you listen as the novel unfolds.

Helen Vendler

Categories: Books · Poetry    Tags:

“The extension of our sympathies”

The greatest benefit we owe the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies… Art is the nearest thing to life, it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.

George Eliot

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Quote of the Day

We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.

— Winston Churchill

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Quote of the Day

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

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William James: Habit

There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.

William James, Habit (read the whole essay here).

Update, 8.20.2017:

William James’s famous essay on habit is mentioned in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey (wonderful book):

James was writing from personal experience — the hypothetical sufferer is, in fact, a thinly disguised description of himself. For James kept no regular schedule, was chronically indecisive, and lived a disorderly, unsettled life. As Robert D. Richardson wrote in his 2006 biography, “James on habit, then, is not the smug advice of some martinet, but the too-late-learned too-little-self-knowing, pathetically earnest, hard-won crumbs of practical advice offered by a man who really had no habits — or who lacked the habits he most needed, having only the habit of having no habits — and whose life was itself a ‘buzzing blooming confusion’ that was never really under control.”

James was also a chronic procrastinator. He told one of his classes:

I know a person who will poke the fire, set chairs straight, pick the dust specks from the floor, arrange his table, snatch up a newspaper, take down any book which catches his eye, trim his nails, waste the morning anyhow, in short, and all without premeditation — simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noonday lesson in formal logic which he detests.

I actually find all this heartening. Maybe there is something in the undisciplined mind that enables it to imagine freely. Of course, it is too much to say that lack of self-restraint is a necessary condition for creativity; there are certainly creative people with rigorous self-discipline — William James’s brother Henry not least among them. But, at a minimum, one can say that a disorderly mind and unsettled habits are not a complete bar to great creative achievements, if William James is any example.

Categories: Productivity    Tags: · · ·

Emerson: Finish each day and be done with it

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it serenely with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Quote of the Day

War hath no fury like a non-combatant.

Charles Edward Montague (via)

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Giamatti on baseball

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

A. Bartlett Giamatti

Categories: Sports    Tags: · ·

Quote of the Day

Even within the most beautiful landscape, in the trees, under the leaves the insects are eating each other; violence is a part of life.

Francis Bacon

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Rodin: The Old Courtesan

Rodin - The Old Courtesan

Auguste Rodin
The Old Courtesan
Also called She Who Was The Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife (Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière)
Modeled 1887, this bronze cast 1969
(via Brooklyn Museum)

“Anyone can see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is … and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be … more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo see that this lovely young girl is still alive, prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart.”

— Robert A. Heinlein, referring to this sculpture in Stranger in a Strange Land

Categories: Art    Tags: · · ·

A letter from Edward Gorey

Gorey envelope

Envelope illustrated by Edward Gorey. (via)

“This is the theory… that anything that is art… is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.”

— Edward Gorey

Categories: Art    Tags: · ·

The road to ruin

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking; and from that to incivility and procrastination.

Thomas de Quincey

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Quote for the Day

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

Elizabeth Stone (1803-1881)

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We built it for ourselves

We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.

When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

Steve Jobs, 1985 (via)

Categories: Creativity    Tags: · · ·

Quote of the Day

It is quite possible — overwhelmingly probable, one might guess — that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology.

Noam Chomsky

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Quote of the Day

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Dr. Seuss (possibly a misattribution, but a great quote whoever said it) (via Garr Reynolds)

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What information consumes

In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.

Economist Herbert Simon, 1971

Categories: Internet · Productivity    Tags: