Letter to A Friend – Creativity, Self-Doubt, The Studio

Dear L-

I don’t want to minimize your negative feelings about either your show or yourself. Or, I do. Or, I don’t, too much. The judgment you pass on yourself is perhaps justifiable (perhaps); but feelings, which though related are still different than judgment, can not be argued. And it’s that which I don’t want to minimize. To speak a tautology, feelings are simply what we feel.

I have read and heard that the people who are the brightest and most creative tend almost inevitably to rate their performance the lowest. Apparently, this has been studied objectively (through standardized exams) and demonstrated to be the case, by the best ivy-league academics. One can only imagine what these thinkers thought about their own study.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso
Nude [study]
1895 (age 14)

In any case, your show was a very good one. And that’s perhaps the problem. If you’re at all like me, the more praise you receive the more you become aware of your own inability to transcend your limitations. That alone puts you in the best of company. Not with me, but with the really great painters. I wish I could get you a copy of Rosalind Krauss’s “The Motivation of The Sign”. This essay doesn’t simply narrate but brilliantly analyzes Picasso’s struggle to free his paintings of the last vestiges of extraneous matter and effects imported (illicitly) from other art forms. The process cost him what others had considered his most impressive talents. But beyond this, his relentless pursuit of purity cost him his most basic understanding, which we experience first in the form of feelings, of his relationship with the persons most dear to him, one of whom, no doubt, was himself.

My point in mentioning this essay, which torments me and which I love, is that I believe it manages, by way of succinct formal analysis, to evince, far more effectively that the long-winded biographies, the intensity of that artist’s struggle finally to claim the right to pronounce his own work art. Perhaps one of the greatest successes of the essay, though I can only imagine what insecurities Krauss’s blustering style conceals, is that it captures the artist on his own turf – not in the mendacious world of everyday persons, places and things, but in the studio, which is not a social space so much as an inner sanctum wherein one is not allowed to lie.

I know the inescapable social, financial and physical pressures that are always with us, that cannot help but motivate our work, despite our efforts at resistance. Nevertheless, in the studio one strives with all one’s strength to stave these influences off, to be inspired exclusively by the elusive object. Perhaps it is the case, then, that we can never truly express our imbrication within a specify social context, and reveal its fundamental structure, until after we have effectively absented ourselves from it. One wonders at times if the painting itself, if the fantasy of its achieved perfection, is in fact not at all an end but rather merely a means: an alibi the artist employs in order to perfect the studio, to create a place of refuge, if not from self then at least from the pressure exerted by those others who fail to offer us the opportunity to feel the exquisite pang of their potential loss.


Pablo Ruiz Picasso
Female Nude In Cadaqués
Summer 1910 (age 29)

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