Words to Make Art By

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” — Martha Graham

That last clause jars—I’ve met plenty of vibrantly alive people who are not artists—but the rest of the words are both inspirational and comforting to me, and are by necessity the touchstone of how I think about my efforts.

When I Like My Work

When I like a piece I’ve done—that is, when I have finally let go of every way in which I can so clearly see it could be better—it is often because to my eye, it moves or makes music. I hope my attempts to reflect calm abiding and repose avoid both movement and noise, but much of the rest of my work seeks to divide and organize space the way music divides and organizes time. When I’m lucky, a piece of paper can acquire a musical flavor. If it can move around a bit within this space, so much the better.

What’s with the names, which often make no sense? Although I sometimes set about trying to create a specific image (War in the Time of Pericles, for example, or Our Broken Heart), the majority of my work is gestural and spontaneously improvisational, bounded by the medium in which I’m working, the music in my head, and what I had for breakfast. Surprise is a major component of the work. A piece may tell me its name immediately upon completion, so that I have little to do with it. Just as commonly, a piece may tell me a story, from which the name springs naturally and unbidden. A piece may quietly change its name, or change its story, and expect me to notice. They’re perverse that way. They’re not shy about reminding me they have a life of their own.