In which I win the Crap Sweepstakes

The record for At First Not Succeeding And Trying, Trying Again (and Again) goes to a picture I tried to paint of an evening in Paris when Top Cat and I found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu dance party on the Pont des Arts.

Oh! It was such a wonderful memory! Of these Parisians whirling around the boards of the bridge where everyone gathers for picnics and rendez-vous in the dusk, the warmth of that early September evening like velvet at 9 o’clock when the Seine and the sky reflect the sunset and the lights of the city like shimmering bits of satin and silk…

I painted that sucker about a dozen times and could never get it right:

Sometimes it was the sky, sometimes it was the dancers, sometimes it was the sky line of Paris  that didn’t look right…

…sometimes it was the sky line and the dancers and the sky that didn’t look right.

This is how many times I started over, and over, and over, and over, trying to make those figures and that bridge and that view work before I had to throw it all away and start with a whole new idea:

I drew completely new figures and put them on a totally different plane and I slapped a moody wash of violets and blues over them and it worked just fine (Sorry, I don’t have a finished version to show you because I haven’t yet committed myself to keeping it in the book).

Somerset Maughm wrote his autobiography at the end of his career and I carry around an excerpt from it to re-read every now and then. He wrote this about how he arrived at his  understanding of his style:

I discovered my limitations and I aimed at what excellence I could within them. I knew that I had no lyrical quality [Me too! Me too!]. I had a small vocabulary. I had little gift for metaphor; the original and striking simile seldom occurred to me.

On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation, and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed. I could put in clear terms what I saw. I had a logical sense and if no great feeling for the richness and strangeness of words, at all events I had a lively appreciation of their sound.

I knew I could never write as well as I could wish, but with pains I could arrive at writing as well as my natural deficits allowed.

In the end, Somerset Maughm summed up his style in these three words:

Lucidity.   Simplicity.   Euphony.

And then he went on to write The Moon and Sixpence, Of  Human Bondage, and one other famous book I can’t remember. (The Razor’s Edge?)

So it just goes to show that even with limitations, one can still strive for excellence; as long as one understands one’s abilities. I just have to figure out what my one or two abilities are.



6 Comments, RSS

  1. Deborah

    My three words: PUT IT IN! You HAVE to put the dancing picture in. I remember a version of it from your original blog, and it so captured my imagination. Who knows which version that was, or what was wrong with it — it told a magical story. Two or three times in my limited travels, I’ve come upon some unexpected beauty like that — morning mist rising off Crater Lake, a full moon reflecting off Lake Tahoe, seeing fireworks (from the town below) explode just below car level while driving on a mountain. I’ve held onto that imperfect image of dancers on a bridge as that same kind of magic. Put it in.

  2. Janet

    … the warmth of that early September evening like velvet at 9 o’clock when the Seine and the sky reflect the sunset and the lights of the city like shimmering bits of satin and silk…

    Now, that’s what I call a fabulous description.

    It’s very interesting to me to see how much effort you take to make something look easy: I appreciate how hard you work to put us where you want us to be: in France, on Long Island, wherever. All I know is that it works, and every time you write/describe a place in France, for example, I smell the bakeries, see Smart cars darting around and long to be sit in a sidewalk cafe on a narrow street in Paris, sipping wine and people watching.

    I’ll have to think about my three words. The ones that come to mind at the moment need to be tossed.

  3. I love the first picture. I second the motion …put it in. I sure know the feeling you’re talking about. I thought I had a lot of perseverance but not after I see all your many attempts at this one painting. I would have given up a long time ago. I can’t think of three words but what often works for me is to go back to my first attempt. Often it turns out to be the best.
    I love Maughm’s quote but the three words don’t do it for me I’d have to carry around the whole quote…and I think I will. Your paintings have a certain “youness” about them. Maybe you’re trying too hard. I’ve always liked your first attempts.

  4. Sandy

    Ohhhh I can picture that scene on the Seine, it is magical as you describe and a week picture would only enhance. My three words,
    Oh Good Lord ?

  5. I looked it uo on Page 115 of WWCTR.
    Looking forward to another version, in the France Book..
    Vivian; you ARE an accomplished artist. Every page is a gift of painting and writings.
    I can’t wait for the new book.

  6. Mindy

    Yes, he did write The Razor’s Edge. He also wrote amazing short stories about the South Pacific. He has always been one of my favorite authors and I have never thought of him as limited.

    Likewise, when reading/consuming WWCTR I never once thought of you as limited! Seeing that you do things multiple times gives me hope. I always get paralyzed because I think things have to be *perfect* right from the get go.

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