Elucidating the world
The Wife's Tale

Art stands on the shoulders of craft

From The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett:

"Why is it we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration? Chances are, any child who stays with an instrument for more than two weeks has some adult who is making her practice, and any child who sticks with it longer than that does so because she understands that practice makes her play better and there is a deep, soul-satisfying pleasure in improvement. If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, 'I'll be playing in Carnegie hall next month!' you would pity her delusion, but beginning writers all over the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker. Perhaps you're thinking here that playing an instrument is not an art in itself but an interpretation of the composer's art, but I stand by my metaphor. The art of writing comes way down the line, as does the art of interpreting Bach. Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means to get to the art, you must master the craft.

''At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance - that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight - that is to have curiosity, to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not.'' - William Faulkner

''I think people become consumed with selling a book when they need to be consumed with writing it.'' - Ann Patchett

"If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish but because you long to write well, because there is something you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment: The only way to get the clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath.

"Does this sound like a lot of work without any guarantee of success? Well yes, but it also calls into question our definition of success. Playing the cello, we're more likely to realize that the pleasure is the practice, the ability to create this beautiful sound -- not to do it as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself."

And for those of us who want to write as well as Yo-Yo plays the cello, to use words as fluidly as he moves his bow across the strings? Then the need for practice, work, experience is all the stronger...and to this I'd add: living our lives as richly as possible, so that we have something to say.

''Just keep writing. Keep reading. ''If you are meant to be a writer, a storyteller, it’ll work itself out. You just keep feeding it your energy, and giving it that crucial chance to work itself out. By reading and writing.'' - Robin McKinley Video above: Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite 1. Photographs: "Cello Hands" by Paul Clarke, a woman writing, and Tilly in the studio, practicing the work of being a writer's muse.


Well, there's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Accompanied by delicious music. Pretty much set the tone for my working day!

Good morning. :)

Hah! Playing an instrument (Whatever one's level) IS a whole separate mystic art, to attain ~being the instrument, and the music,~ aside from the wonders one can render with it. Technique with no heart/life connection preceding it is a very poor cousin, rather an automaton. And writing is the same. How odd that there seems to be a rampant "here is the form", therefore you can do... The secret is to become, with practice, until you can BE the writing and the story that comes through. I still happily practice. It always soothes. However, it is not always for improvement. lol. Sometimes it is a pure feeding frenzy. Addiction to the zone.

This frank advice from Ms. Patchett is wise, I think, and could apply to all of the arts.

Perhaps it's our fame-orientated culture that leads so many to focus on the outcome (on the publishing a book, or the selling a picture) rather than on the work & joy of practicing the art itself, particularly when one is still in the learning / practicing / skill-building stage. I admit I was like that myself until a very good teacher in my university years taught me otherwise.

Does the ease of self-publishing, either digitally or print, exacerbate this tendency to want to rush the process of skill-gathering, or has it always been thus?

Having painted and made pictures for decades now I have realized that I am incredibly lucky to have this way of doing in life...this way of stepping into the stream of the cosmos (or call it God, if you will) and allowing it to speak through my form, thus to lose that form and become the shape of the stream instead--- is a gift greater than most others. The craft comes with the constant plunge and the wearing away of even the concept of craft. And then there is the plain fact that without painting I get very cranky and then downright wonky.

oh, I needed this, though I KNOW it already. I'm guilty of waiting for the "right" moment and never doing the work. It's SO frustrating and disappointing and... difficult to overcome.

Good, so very good this morning. Thanks... and Tilly has seems to be inviting you to sit back down and write, or maybe its a bit of a command.

I have been enjoying this blog for several weeks now, and wanted to thank you for the inspiration. I want to write from a love for what is true and what is beautiful (for the sake of art, I suppose) but don't always remember that. This post is a lovely reminder.

Standing on Shoulders

“Art stands on the shoulders of craft. . .”
--Ann Patchett

So here I stand, my toes dug deep
into the shoulders of the giant.
I feel his muscles bunch beneath me.
He does not so much try to throw me off
as test me. Wizards do that with words,
giants with a shrug.
I do not fall
but it is a close thing. The wind is thin
this high up, but I can see the patchwork
of landscape spread out before me,
a wedding quilt of colors I cannot yet name.

Do not try this if you are afraid of falling.
Do not begin this if you are not ready
to be stretched, to be tested, to start again.
Art begins up here, but ends down there,
patched into the world that is both real
and imagined, and whole.

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Isn't it funny, how you can fall so far, but once your feet have dug in, they never quite *both* loose their connection to that giant's shoulders.

Jane, your poems in the comment section are such an inspiration to me. Not because they are good poems - which they are - but because they are so obviously a discipline of response/practice: just the sort of thing mentioned in the quote.

You my dear terri ae a crafty master/mistress of the craft, with a heart so full of rich full life specifics that no one else can represent your vision but yourself. Bach, the Cello and Yo Yo Ma are prime favorites in my life, and here, strange as he is/was, is another with love: The well Tempered Clavier
Book 1-Preludes and Fugue
Glen Gould

This poem is so very, very, very true.

Thank you for these very kind words, Michelle. And the wonderful link!

Indeed. Well said, Virginia.

Welcome, Anna, and thank you.

My 11 year old daughter has just this year begun learning the flute (on the same old flute I learnt on at school almost 40 years ago), and she gets very frustrated when it gets hard. These are wise words for young and old alike, to not give up when it gets hard, or you think you'll never be able to do it. Because to keep going, keep practicing, keep making mistakes and sounding awful for a long while, is the only way to get to the point where you finally begin to sound wonderful...and she's reading over my shoulder as I write this! Now I just need to learn to take my own advice.!

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