Some words about our subject

The artist who is only a painter may well become intimidated by his degree-bearing brethren. Under the charmed light of their MA’s, their PhD’s, their accumulated honors and designations, the scholars speak of art in terms of class and category, and under headings of which the artist may never have heard. While he himself may have read extensively about art – and I think that most artists do read a great deal about art, and know a great deal about it – while he may have looked at scores of paintings, have dwelt upon them and absorbed them, his interest has been a different one; he has absorbed visually, not verbally. The idea of classifying such work would never have occurred to him, because to him the work is unique; it exists in itself alone. It is its distinction from other art, not its commonality with other art, that interests him. If the work has no such distinction, if it does not stand alone, he has no reason for remembering it.

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 18

I have a young friend who, through most of  his high-school years, was given to writing poetry. He is now entering his junior year in the university. The other evening I asked him what sort of verse he had been writing, and whether I might read some of it. He replied, “Oh, I’ve stopped writing poetry.” Then he explained, “There’s so much that you have to know before you can write poetry. There are so many forms that you have to master first. Actually,” he said, “I just wrote because I liked to put things down. It didn’t amount to much; it was only free verse.”

Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him – I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes, or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form – possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Scholarship is perhaps man’s most rewarding occupation, but that scholarship which dries up its own creative sources is a reductio ad absurdum, a contradiction of itself.

The Shape of  Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
— Erich Fromm

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