August 22, 2013

  • Found Excerpt

    I found this excerpt cut out from what I presume is a New Yorker magazine article (from looking at what was on the back of the text). I found it in my old supervisor’s office. She left our organization last October and I was in her office taking a private call when I glanced over at the clippings left on her wall. Most were related to our work, but then there was this long rectangular clipping taped at eye level.

    I gently pulled it from the wall and read it.

    Gauguin went on to Tahiti, to become–through his effect on Picasso and also on the entire Malraux-Hemingway generation–a central type of the modern artist. There is another kind of moral luck, though, appealed to by van Gogh in his late pictures and letters, different from the flamboyant self-creation of the more familiar Gauguin-Picasso sort. It is the moral luck of making something that no one wants in the belief that someone someday will. The letters of van Gogh’s last year mark his acceptance of his isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation need not be absolute–that, one day, there will be a community of readers and viewers who will understand him, and that his mistake had been to try and materialize that community in the moment instead of accepting it as the possible gift of another world and time. “One must seize the reality of one’s fate and that’s that.” The real community is not that of charmed artists living like monks but the distant dependencies of isolated artists and equally isolated viewers, who together make the one kind of community that modernity allows.

    The turn toward moral luck puts modern art, however popular, at permanent odds with the society that delights in it. Whether it its benign, wishful form, or in its belligerent “Watch me!” aspect, the pursuit of moral luck remains alien to a liberal civilization that always, and usually intelligently, prefers compromise to courage, and morning meetings to evening dares. Even the shoppers and speculators who wager on the future value of a work of art are engaged at best in a kind of mimicry of the original risk. A society of sure things needs a mythology of long shots. To trust in luck is to be courageous, and courage, the one essential virtue, on which all others depend, is also the one ambiguous virtue, since it is morally neutral: jerks have it as often as gentlemen.

    Here’s to being courageous.

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