Art in the interstices....

Recommended Reading

woman reading

Four pieces I particularly recommend:

1. The Julliard School of Music's 109th Commencement Speech by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (CMuse) -- a passionate, inspiring speech that applies to all of us in the arts. DiDonato presents the graduates with lessons from her own experience, including this:

"It's not about you. This can be a particularly hard, and humbling, lesson to face – and it’s one I’ve had to continue to learn at every stage of my own journey – but this is a freeing and empowering truth. You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and have signed up for a life of service by going into the Arts. And the life-altering results of that service in other people’s lives will never disappear as fame unquestionably will. You are here to serve the words, the director, the melody, the author, When Apples Were Golden and Songs Were Sweet by John Melhuish Strudwickthe chord progression, the choreographer -- but above all and most importantly, with every breath, step, and stroke of the keyboard, you are here to serve humanity.

"You, as alumni of the 109th graduating class of The Juilliard School are now servants to the ear that needs quiet solace, and the eye that needs the consolation of beauty, servants to the mind that needs desperate repose or pointed inquiry, to the heart that needs invitation to flight or silent understanding, and to the soul that needs safe landing, or fearless, relentless enlightenment. You are a servant to the sick one who needs healing through the beauty and peace of the symphony you will compose through blood-shot eyes and sleepless nights. You are an attendant to the lost one who needs saving through the comforting, probing words you will conjure up from the ether, as well as from your own heroic moments of strife and triumph. You are a steward to the closed and blocked one who needs to feel that vital, electric, joyful pulse of life that eludes them as they witness you stop time as you pirouette and jettè across the stage on your tired legs and bleeding toes. You are a vessel to the angry and confused one who needs a protected place to release their rage as they watch your eyes on the screen silently weep in pain as you relive your own private hell. You are a servant to the eager, naïve, optimistic ones who will come behind you with wide eyes and wild dreams, reminding you of yourself, as you teach and shape and mold them, even though you may be plagued with haunting doubts yourself, just as your teachers likely were -- and you will reach out to them and generously invite them to soar and thrive, because we are called to share this thing called Art."


Five Little Pigs by Elizabeth Shippen Green

2. "Storytelling is a Magical, Ruthless Discipline" by Zadie Smith (Medium)

"[T]he truth," says Smith, "is something happened when I had kids. I went from not being able to think of a single story to being unable to stop seeing stories pretty much every place I looked. Now, before anybody raises a hand to object, I am not a biological essentialist, nor one of these people who believe a gift for empathy arrives along with the placenta. The explanation, in my opinion, is less dramatic: storybooks. For the first time since childhood I am back in the realm of stories and storybooks -- three stories read out loud to a four year old, every night, on pain of death -- and this practice has reawakened in me something I thought I’d misplaced a long time ago, on book tour, perhaps, or in the back row of a university lecture hall. This feeling of narrative possibility and wonder — this idea that every person is a world. How could I have forgotten that? Did I really almost drift away, down that anemic, intellectual path where storytelling is considered vulgar and characters a stain on the purity of a sentence? Dear Lord --  almost."

A detail from the Unicorn Tapestries

3. An interview with Rebecca Solnit, author of The Faraway Nearby, Wanderlust, etc. (The White Review)

"I loved stories before I could read," Solnit recalls. "I had a huge appetite for narrative, and my mother said I learnt how to read in the first week or two of first grade, and then I was off and running. Books were these boxes of treasure, and reading gave me the key to them. I was just astounded that all of this was available, and that I could access it was so exciting. It was the only thing that I had, and the librarians loved me, because I spent a lot of time reading in libraries. At first I wanted to be a librarian because they live around books all day -- that was the first semester of first grade -- and then I realised that I wanted to be a writer, because that’s an even more intimate relationship with books. But just that discovery that books are these treasure boxes that you can open and be anyone and go anywhere and know everything -- that was amazing. There are book people and then there’s everybody else. There are people who might read books and then there are people who are so enchanted by books and who live in that other world in which books exist."

Alice illustrations by Iain McCaig

4. An interview with Iain McCaig, illustrator, film designer, storyteller (John Barleycorn Must Die)

"My higher calling," says Iain, "is to serve the story. I never just make images, the images are always there to tell stories. So the calling is to serve the story and you will serve the story no matter how you feel, or what you’re doing, or whether you’re sleepy, tired, inhibited -- that's all irrelevant. The show must go on. It must. Otherwise, get off the stage."

Fairies by Iain McCaig

Also recommended:

* "The Book of Miracles" by Marina Warner (The New York Review of Books)

* An interview with Marina Warner (Prospect)

* "Slaying Monsters: Tolkien's 'Beowulf'" by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)

* "What Muriel Sparks Saw" by Parul Sehgal (The New Yorker)

* "The Quiet Greatness of Eudora Welty" by Danny Heitman (The Humanities)

Mouse drawing by Iain McCain* "The Legend of Vera Nabokov: Why Writers Pine for a Do-It-All Spouse" by Koa Beck (The Atlantic)

* "MFA vs. POC" by Junot Diaz (The New Yorker)

* "E.B. White's Beautiful Letter to a Man Who Had Lost Faith in Humanity" (Brain Pickings, audio)

* An interview with Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing (Brain Pickings)

* "La bella vite: Friedrich Schiller and Beauty" by John Armstrong (Aeon Magazine)

* "Drip, Drip, Drip by Day and Night: The Literature of Rain" by Alexandra Harris (The Guardian)

With love from me and Tilly.

On the studio bench Images above: a Butterick poster from the early 20th century (I believe the artist remains unknown, but do correct me if I'm wrong); "When Apples Were Golden and Songs Were Sweet" by John Melhuish Strudwick (1849-1947); "Five Little Pigs" by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954); a detail from the Unicorn Tapestries (15th century); "Alice in Wonderland" illustrations, fairies, and a charming little mouse from Shadowline: The Art of Iain McCaig; and Tilly on the bench outside the studio. Many thanks to Beckie Kravetz for the Joyce DiDonato speech, and to Ellen Kushner for both the Zadie Smith and E.B. White links.