John McPhee

Painter Nicole Eisenman’s recent New Yorker profile covers a lot of ground, from being gay to doing heroin, and all the art she’s made along the way.

The piece also has some handy missives for all creatives, including writers.

For example, many of us plug away at our art, hoping to create something that deserves attention, that causes people to feel something and to see us. We tweak, edit, and practice, never knowing if we’ll make it to where we want our art to be, which is in a place someone might call, “Good.”

In the excerpt below, Eisenman talks about how, after years of being an artist, something clicked in her work.

"In Nicole’s account of her career, things changed about fifteen years ago, after she found ways to infuse her paintings with some of the looseness of her drawings. She expressed this in the form of a question, her voice shrinking with each word: 'The paintings started getting good?'"

One day, if you keep at it, your art will start getting good.

And when it does, when others start taking notice, you may get busy. You could get overwhelmed. If that happens, it’s crucial that you step back, return to center, back to where you can create the art that makes you happy, that you have to make.

"She missed working alone, without hourly consultations with fabricators and assistants. (The list of materials used in 'Procession' includes a fog machine, mirrored Plexiglas, a telephone pole, a bee, tuna-can labels, and 'various twigs.' One figure wore socks knitted by Roeck’s mother.) She wanted to “push the world out.”

As you work, never forget that nothing in the creative process is wasted. You never know when that thing you made ends up being not something you toss, but a piece of the larger puzzle of your creation.

"In her sketches, she had drawn someone carrying a barrel, and someone else with a belt of knives. The barrel made it into the potato painting."

Drafts, sketches, extras, whatever you call them, are steps creatives take along the path to art. As John McPhee wrote:

Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then, as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again—top to bottom. The chances are that about now you’ll be seeing something that you are sort of eager for others to see. And all that takes time. What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version—if it did not exist—you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day—yes, while you sleep—but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.

John McPhee

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