Telling the Truth

I recently bought a Kindle and posted on Facebook asking for reading suggestions, and received some excellent responses. (Interesting how different social networks have different strengths and weaknesses – I posted the same request on Twitter and got nothing but spam.) I’m currently 66% of the way through Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna (for better or worse, Kindle makes you discuss these things in percentage form), which is a beautiful story of Harrison Shepherd, a fictional aspiring author, and his encounters with various influential figures of the 1930s and 40s, one of whom is Frida Kahlo.

Here’s a couple of extracts I particularly like.

“I think an artist has to tell the truth,” she (Kahlo)┬ásaid finally. “You have to use the craft very well and have a lot of discipline for it, but mostly to be a good artist you have to know something that’s true. These kids who come to Diego wanting to learn, I’ll tell you. They can paint a perfect tree, a perfect face, whatever you ask. But they don’t know enough about life to fill a thimble. And that’s what has to go in the painting. Otherwise, why look at it?”

“How does an artist learn enough about life to fill a thimble?”

“Soli, I’m going to tell you. He needs to go rub his soul against life. Go work in a copper mine for a few months, or a shirt factory. Eat some terrible tacos, just for the experience.”

Later on, Shepherd’s first novel is about to be published, and he writes to Kahlo, terrified by the prospect.

Stratford has mailed a check for two hundred dollars, an advance payment upon royalties to be received, and if they can find the paper they mean to print up copies by the thousand. A terrifying miracle. These words were all written in dark, quiet rooms. How can they face the bright, noisy world?

You must know. You open your skin and pour yourself on a canvas. And then let the curators drape your intestines all around the halls, for the ruckus of society gossips. Can it be survived?

On the subject of surviving as an artist, here’s a blog entry by Rinat Shaham on just that subject. I’ve always intended to write something along the same lines, but she encapsulates it far better than I ever could:


About Paul Carey Jones

Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh opera singer. He should be writing about the current state of the classical music business but might well digress into science, politics, football or cheese. He has recently started a series of irregular posts along the broad theme of "Things they don't teach you at music college." Any suggestions or requests on this theme will be treated with feigned or genuine interest. You can contact him via comments here or at:
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