Saturday, February 2, 2013

"There is only the trying" - T.S. Eliot (East Cocker)

My husband and I have made a project out of slowly reading through the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. One of his more famous pieces of work. Four poems that go together and are sort of a response to The Wasteland that he wrote earlier in life, before he became a Christian.

I would like to share a snippet of the second poem in the set, East Cocker, that we read today. Considering that this is an art blog, I am not necessarily trying to speak about it religiously, although this poem in particular, and this section of the poem, in particular, is very rich in it's parallels and imagery to Christianity. This section of the poem resonated with me the most because it put into words how I feel about the work I do as an artist - and in particular the work I do an a children's book illustrator.
And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. 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.
In my work, there are usually very clear "new beginnings" - a new sketch, a new illustration, a new book project. And I usually treat them as new beginnings, a fresh start, a chance to do better, to apply what I learn from the last project, and I usually start off this new venture with high hopes and lots of energy and excitement...a "raid" if you will. But as much as I have learned, as prepared as I feel, as much as I know about creating art, I quickly discover that I really don't know what I am doing and it feels like I am using "shabby equipment". Am I communicating the idea I want to communicate? Will kids understand what I'm trying to show or say? Does the composition, color, mood, texture of the image help communicate what I want to communicate? I become so overwhelmed with all there is to consider and remember and do, that it becomes a jumbled mess and it's a wonder I come out the other side with a piece of art or a finished book.

As an illustrator of stories, I am also charged with the task of saying something important, and hopefully, something wise and something to learn from. But I am always told that every story has already been told. All we do is tell them in new or different ways. The lessons have already been taught, the wisdom has already been shared, the kids have already learned. So why continue to make new stories? Well, because kids grow up and they have their own kids who need to be taught. Because sometimes - oftentimes - all the time - we forget what we've learned and we have to be reminded again and again. This is why I will continue to create stories and create art that tells stories, because I need to remind people of what they've already learned, or else they WILL forget. And for me personally, some of the things I like to remind people of is their sense of wonder, of mystery, of discovery and awe. Those seem to be the things we forget first, especially as we grow older, and yet they might be the most important things to remember.

Finally, "for us, there is only the trying." Despite all the things I don't know about illustrating, despite all the things I don't know how to put into words, as often as I feel like I just don't know what I am doing, I just have to try. Otherwise, how will I get anywhere or do anything? I would rather spend my life trying to create good art and share my wisdom in stories than sit back stubbornly and think "if I can't do it well, I wont do it at all." Because the more I try, the more chances I will do something well, and the more chances I will say something that resonates with a child and makes an impression on them. I'll take that chance any day.

So here's to a lifetime of trying. Won't you join me?

1 comment:

Katy Betz said...

Truth spoken! I loved this post Lauren!! You are a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing. I'm so glad to call you friend!! Keep trying forever, it is our greatest gift and weapon for winning battles :)