by Kirby Congdon…….
In response to remarks made in The Blue Paper, a reader, Jerome Grapel, points out that cultural freedom in the arts is hard to come by. We are often obliged to compromise our creative instincts in order to pay our bills.
Everybody should of course be able to exercise their talents as they want to so that we may control and develop our own lives, or explore and experiment with a calling. Unfortunately, damn it, we also need to eat. This country’s poet laureate Richard Wilbur has an agent who charges a fee for reprinting Wilbur’s work. How do you get to such a level of achievement? Mr. Wilbur taught classes to pay his rent and raise his kids. A writer I know was offered a job early in his career as an English teacher in a high school in mid-America only because of his commitment to his own writing since he had nothing else going for him. He wasn’t established in any school or publication. He had been through graduate school and that’s all. The invitation so soon to teach was an unusual opportunity, especially in regard to the fact that he had been making a living in the bowels of New York as a temporary speed typist, which was not all that exciting. But he turned down this chance to get a decent income in the education field that would secure his livelihood in a professional way. Why? Because he knew that his own inspirations would be distracted by having to behave well, by having to grade his pupils’ papers, coping with a small-town middle-class society and conforming to expectations in a public school environment. His refusal to accept this offer may not have been a wise decision for anyone with common sense but a creative person, which he felt he was, feels his calling is more important than common sense.
To work at a job and to keep one’s creative life first is very difficult. If you work to support a family, then it is almost impossible. It helps if you live in an environment like a large city where everyone else you know is risking their talents against a whole world of indifference. Success in the popular mind means that income and approval are paramount concerns. An artist needs recognition but he can still be committed to his creative stance.
Mr. Grapel points out that compromise “perverts ‘art.’ It might be good art work but it is not ‘art’.” This suggests that if creativity is what is essential to your sense of well-being then you have to cope with the inconvenience, the frustration, the difficulties and the dance you invent spontaneously on the public stage to, in short, keep sane because the public in general seldom understands putting your creative life before anything else. Sometimes the asylum you seek has no walls or rules because your own life is always unique and public opinion about you, however severe, is always secondary to the one you yourself have and we hope can keep.