Pearls from artists* # 558

May 10, 2023

Alexandria, VA

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

One of the main differences between the young girl who drew a line in chalk from the Metropolitan Museum all the way to her home on Park Avenue and the young woman who drew lines on canvas and paper twenty years later was that the latter understood the willfulness that drove the child. She was facing “the monster,” the consuming need to create, which was beyond her control but no longer beyond her comprehension. Helen [Frankenthaler] had long understood that her gift set her apart, and that it would be nearly impossible to describe how and why without sounding arrogant or cruel. “It’s saying I’m different, I’m special, consider me differently,” she explained years later. “And it’s also on the other side, a recognition that one is lonely, that one is not run of the mill, that the values are different, and yet we all go into the same supermarkets… and we all are moved one way or the other by children and seasons, and dreams. So the art separates you.”

The separation she described was not merely the result of what one did, whether it be painting or sculpting or writing poetry. Helen said the distance between an artist and society was due to a quality both tangible and intangible and intrinsic, a “spiritual” or “magical” aspect that nonartists did not always understand and were sometimes frightened by. “They want you to behave a certain way. They want you to explain what you do and why you do it. Or they want you removed, either put on a pedestal or victimized. They can’t handle it.” Helen concluded that existing outside so-called normal life was simply the price an artist paid to create.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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