Writers and painters

by janeeatonhamilton

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

In 2013, Janet Malcolm published ‘Forty-One False Starts.’ Here she is thinking about and talking to UK artist David Salle about making art:

“Writers have traditionally come to painters’ ateliers in search os aesthetic succor. To the writer, the painter is a fortunate alter ego, an embodiment of the sensuality and exteriority that he has abjured to pursue his invisible, odorless calling. The writer comes to the places where traces of making art can actually be seen and smelled and touched expecting to be inspired and enabled, possibly even cured. While I was interviewing the artist David Salle, I was coincidentally writing a book that was giving me trouble, and although I cannot pin it down exactly (and would not want to), in his studio something clarifying and bracing did filter down to my enterpirse. He was a good influence. But he was also a dauntingly productive artist, and one day, as I walked into the studio and caught a glimpse of his new work, I blurted out my envious feelings. In the month since we last met,he had produced four large, complex new paintings, which hung on the walls in galling aplomb–while I had written maybe ten pages I wasn’t sure I would keep. To my surprise, instead of uttering a modest disclaimer or reassuring words about the difference between writing and painting, Salle flushed and became defensive. His detractors point to his lauge output as another sign of his lightweightness. “They hold it up as further evidence that the work is glib and superficial,” Salle said.

“If work comes easily, it is suspect.”

“But it doesn’t come easily. I find it extremely difficult. I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall… When I work, I feel that I’m doing everything wrong. I feel that it can’t be this hard for other people. I feel that everyone else has figured out a way to do it that allows him an effortless, charmed ride through life, while I have to stay in this horrible pit of a room, suffering …

“I just realized something,” I said. “Everyone who writes or paints or performs is defensive about everything. I’m defensive about not working fast enough.