The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The job of a self-conscious artist

Posted on: May 26, 2007

The artist can never write to satisfy himself — to get, as the saying is, something off the chest. He must not write rolling periods, the production of which gives him a soothing feeling in his digestive organs or wherever it is. He must write always so as to satisfy that other fellow — that other fellow who has too clear an intelligence to let his attention be captured or his mind deceived by special pleadings in favour of any given dogma. You must not write so as to improve him, since he is a much better fellow than yourself, and you must not write so as to influence him, since he is a granite rock, a peasant intelligence, the gnarled bole of a sempiternal oak, against which you will dash yourself in vain. It is in short no pleasant kind of job to be a conscious artist. You won’t have any vine-leaves in your poor old hair; you won’t dash your quill into an inexhaustible ink-well and pour fine frenzies. No, you will be just the skilled workman doing his job with drill or chisel or mallet. And you will get precious little out of it. Only, just at times, when you come to look again at some work of yours that you have quite forgotten, you will say, “Why, that is rather well done.” That is all.

From “On Impressionism”, by Ford Madox Ford

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