Monday, May 11, 2015

Wise Words

Martha Graham was born on this day in 1894. Her advice to fellow dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille:

The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, “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. As for you, Agnes, you have a peculiar and unusual gift, and you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time, she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Quoted from: Letters of Note


Anonymous wendy said...

Oh how wise! Maggie thanks for posting this.

3:28 pm, May 11, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my! strikes right to the core of what is exposed when speaking truth.


5:04 pm, May 11, 2015  
Blogger Sukie said...

Wonderful! I've read the long paragraph before, but never the full conversation and it's conclusion with "divine dissatisfaction" and "a blessed unrest." What powerful, provocative phrases. Thank you.

9:36 pm, May 11, 2015  
Blogger Claus said...

Is this why Christ is the way and not the rocking chair?
And why creation takes the long route through evolution?

I can’t stay.
My only home is
The way’s
Here and now.
I can’t grasp.
You grasp my hand,
Easily and
We begin to walk.
Is our burden:
Eye’s light,
Friendship’s salt and
Pilgrim's song
Heavenly sound,
Gracefully blue.

6:14 pm, May 12, 2015  
Anonymous Susan said...

Thank you so much for this.

It reminds me a bit of TS Eliot's words in 'East Coker', written just a little earlier:

"…And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

But Graham's words are more warm and, well, urgent.

I'm giving a copy of her words to all my calligraphy and art students.


7:31 pm, May 13, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just happened to come across this line from Goethe which seems to echo Martha Graham's advice: "Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes."

1:35 am, May 15, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Browning is relevant too? "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Di

8:40 am, May 16, 2015  

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