Monday, February 19, 2007

I am truly enjoying Steven Pressfield's The War of Art: not only are there many great nuggets of wisdom, but a few times, I have laughed out loud, then proceeded to chuckle every few minutes afterwards, each time the same thought crossed my mind again. (My husband, reading in bed next to me at the time, has endless patience.)

As I make final preparations for my trip to New York, (with a heavy heart because this trip will be followed by another, which translates to 14 days without my studio buddy, The Goob), I must share with you a page from the book....

"How To Be Miserable

In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There's a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into blood-thirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What is does teach, however, is a lot more useful.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.
Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because those candy-asses don't know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell."

This passage reminds me of Professor Olsen, or Olie, as everyone called him: the first professor all incoming painting students had upon arrival in the UGA graduate program. He was a Vietnam vet, a great guy, shorter than my 5'4", but every time he said hello to one of the grad students especially liked (male or female) he would roar a loud "Arrrgggghhhh!" and give them a bear hug so big it would lift them off the ground. Taking his class was a kind of rite of passage, he spoke in a sort of code, and we would all usually scratch our heads or meet in a group after class to try to decipher what he said. Anyway, he started the first day of class by telling us that he was a helicopter pilot in the war. Back then, when he would return to the base and hit the bar for a drink, he might find himself sitting next to someone who had a job working at the base. When they conversed, he became increasingly aware that the person he was speaking to had NO IDEA what it was like to be a copter pilot, and all that was involved: danger, exhilaration, steely nerves, the things he had seen, etc. He realized that he was part a special, select group that really knew how tough things could get.

On that first day of class, Olie had us divide into 2 groups, and pick a secret name for our group, an animal name, something strong and dangerous. "You will remember", he said, "that you are part of this secret group of artists, the ones who know what it is like in the trenches, until the day you die."


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