The Artist’s Dilemma

I’ve just read (in one evening) The Sister of the Angels by Elizabeth Goudge, a sweet story about a young girl, an artist, and a chapel full of frescoes. I recommend the book for anyone interested in any form of art, as well as anyone looking for a new family Christmas favorite. But I’m not going to review it at length; I’m just going to quote one passage that is worth the whole weight of the book. The young girl’s father, a writer, is telling her a story about the artist.

“In some ways this man was rather unfortunate because no one wanted to buy the pictures that he painted, and as he had to support himself and his family this was rather awkward, because if people don’t give you money for the work that you do you starve, and so does your family, and you don’t like that, nor do they. All artists, whether they are musicians or painters or writers, experience the same difficulty. . . . It’s a difficulty that passes, of course; for one of three things is bound to happen fairly soon: either the artist, under pressure of starvation, gives up painting the pictures he wants to paint, but can’t sell, and paints those that he does not want to paint but can sell; or else he manages to last out until the public, having got accustomed to the kind of art that they formerly reviled, suddenly change their minds and like it after all; or else, remaining true to the kind of work he likes and not having the kind of body that will last out unfed while the public slowly change their minds, he dies.”

“But there’s another thing he could do,” said Henrietta eagerly. “He could give up being an artist and do something quite different; he could be a ticket collector or a pork butcher.”

“No,” said Ferranti somberly, “with an artist that is only another form of death. I’ve tried it, and I know.”

I guess this puts me, and a great many other writers, among the walking dead. We kill ourselves with work we don’t love that puts bread on the table, while trying to keep ourselves marginally alive by doing the work we love in bits and pieces of time left over. This is not a good way to live—or to make art.

Of course, it could give you plenty of first-hand experience to use in writing zombie fiction, if that’s what floats your boat. It doesn’t float mine.

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5 comments on “The Artist’s Dilemma

  1. I have managed to do both kinds of writing but it has taken several decades. Never went hungry but wondered at times if I would. God’s grace prevailed and I’m still here and still writing. I’ve even managed to ‘like’ some of the writing that was my least favorite!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    And the moral of the story?

  3. Cheryl Tuggle says:

    After reading your post, I requested this book from my local library and read it just after Nativity. It was such a sweet read! The human characters are so lively, flawed, but so likable; the Cathedral is described with such loving care for detail it has a personality of its own. I’ll be sharing this delightful story with others.Thank you.

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