I was listening to a podcast about memoirs the other day. Somewhere in the dialogue the guest speaker said “…if you’re not taking a risk, then you’re not writing.” It made me think…do readers know when the writer is holding back? Do we always expect an exceptional story-line and exceptional prose to go with it, and shun anything less? I’m not sure about the expectations, but I suspect that a reader knows when a writer hasn’t given it 100%. In the case of memoirs, that would probably happen when the author doesn’t want to make someone look bad, or doesn’t want to divulge the details of a painful event. The recommendation was that we (as writers) just need to leave all on the page.
Just by coincidence, I was in my regular sketching class and the instructor (thanks Karen!) shared that there was a book about the artist, Robert Henri, that we all might like to read. Robert Henri (1865-1929) was a famous American artist, but known equally for his teaching. His students collected some of his greatest advice in a book titled The Art Spirit: Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students, Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making, the Study of Art Generally, and on Appreciation. I can’t imagine a greater tribute to a teacher than a student-written memoir! However, it was a sample Henri quote that I found the most poignant. Regarding the mindset for an artist, Henri said “Like to do your work as a dog likes to gnaw a bone and go at it with equal interest and exclusion of everything else.” Yup, a studio artist needs passion, just like a writer needs to take risk. Anything less, and the audience will know and be disappointed.
As I listened to Karen critique a friend’s sketch during class, she said “you’ve found your bone,” to complement the composition. Let’s hope that as artists and writers, we can all take risks, gnaw bones, and create a personal masterpiece!