I’ve been going over some old blogposts from back in late 2008/early 2009 in preparation for a couple of upcoming interviews on public radio and television, just to see how my views on my work, or at least how I represent them, might have evolved over the last four years. I came across this post from October of 2008 that talks a bit about how my work ethic in the studio was shaped. It’s one of my favorite posts from that time and a story I’ve related a number of times over the years , one that I think is still relevant for most field of endeavor.
This is a piece called “Labor to Light”, a smaller piece that is at the West End Gallery in Corning. It features one of what I call my icons, the field rows running back to the horizon. To me, they represent the act of labor and its fruits- the work ethic which has been very important to me in this career and something I stress to kids whenever I get to talk to them.
I remember years ago reading an interview with author John Irving (of “Garp” fame) where he talked about his work routine. He talks quite a bit about wrestling in his writing as he was a high school and college grappler and he used a wrestling analogy to describe how he approached his writing. He said that if he wanted to go to the highest level as a wrestler, which would be an Olympic or world champion, he would have to train harder and longer than the men he would be competing against. He felt that he was basically competing against every wrestler in the world. He then turned this to writing.
He turned his writing into a competitive effort of Olympic proportion, where he was competing with every other writer in the world for each reader that came into a bookstore. If you were buying someone else’s book, you weren’t buying his and in his mind, he had lost. So he began to train himself as a writer with the same effort as though he were an Olympic athlete, writing 7-8 hours per day, forcing himself to forge ahead even on days when it would be easy to just blow it off and do anything else.
When I read this it struck a chord. I realized that in order to reach my highest level I would have to be willing to devote myself to working harder and longer than other artists, be willing to spend more time alone, away from distraction. It would require sacrifice and hard labor. But Irving’s example gave me a path to follow, a starting point.
I have since realized that there is a multitude of talented people out there, many with abilities far beyond mine. But to communicate successfully with one’s art one needs to push that ability fully, in order to go beyond what your mind sees as an endpoint. I see this as my goal everyday in the studio. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I come up short but I’m out there competing everyday.
Thanks, John Irving