Monday, November 05, 2007

How educated

...must an artist be?

Here's a lengthy article on Oliver Sacks, whose work I first learned about during a frigid February walk prior to breakfast at St. Peter's Abbey a number of years back. It was still dark, the road solid ice, our breaths clouding our way, and there I was, slipping with each step, listening to a writer talk about A Leg to Stand On, the first book mentioned in the article. I now own a number of books by Sacks.

I like the description of his office on the first page. I can't imagine using a typewriter, much less typing on yellow paper.


Anonymous said...

Sacks' autobio is amazing... his mother was rather unique in her childrearing philosophies... absolutely fascinating man, as a musician, I'm eager to read the new book.

as for the how educated should artists be? perhaps the question is, where should artists be educated? are universities the best place? ditto for lawyers, engineers, architects, musicians etc... perhaps its the university model itself that should be examined...

John said...

Oh yeah, Oliver's books have definite Sacks appeal.

Personally, I'm of the mind that the education of artists is one of the last things we should bother our pretty little heads about. We -- by which I mean the world in general -- might be much better off if we simply worried about education itself, and how to provide decent schooling to all children. If a proper educational foundation could be given, students' natural inclinations would guide them to the fields which most interest them; whether those fields be art, science, maths or whatever. With a real system of basic education in place, specialized education could begin to take care of itself.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Good points.

Unfortunately, my head is frequently bothered by this. And I'm not talking the big picture here. Just little old me. I'm on the mailing list for UBC's optional-residency MFA program. Every time they send a reminder about an application deadline, I'm tempted to apply. Of course a MFA won't solve my PhD envy. :)

The biggest reason I've tossed around pursuing a MFA is not for jobs. It's tough to find like-minded writers with whom to share your work. From what I hear, solid working relationships can come out of programs like that. Mind you, there's always the chance that you won't click with anyone in the bunch, but you'd still come away with the degree.

Ariel Gordon said...

Hey B...I get that same should-I-apply twinge, for many of the same reasons.

I prefer semi-solid working relationships myself...

Brenda Schmidt said...


The biggest thing holding me back is my method of working, which is long established and doesn't fit with CW programs. I rarely show early drafts to anyone. Mind you, I was tickled with the brilliant edit that I received when I posted a new poem here earlier this year. Maybe I'll take the frugal approach and just post the odd poem. If I'm lucky the generosity will continue.

And what do I mean by like-minded anyhow?

Ariel Gordon said...

Oh, that's easy. People whose mind you like...

Anonymous said...

I think its all relevant, and irrelevant at the same time. I think that writing is about making relationships, and that we need those interrelationships to move forward in the writing biz, but at the same time, some of these same relationships almost become incestuous, and in those relationships we can't move forward at all.

Sure, that probably makes no sense, but what we need to do is write more, and worry less.

John said...

Don't mind me. I often jump to general cases (especially ones that I've been chewing around in my head a while) without pausing to think of what particulars might be. An old failing of mine that's sometimes cause for contention.

Brenda Schmidt said...

ha! Good one, Ariel. I think that's the definition I'll go with.

That makes sense, Tracy. What does moving forward in the writing biz mean though? Writing more is never a problem with me. I am, however, interested in moving my writing forward. Bouncing the work off writers who are interested in what you're doing would assist in that, I think. As I just said in an email on this topic, I often look at acknowledgment pages of writers like McKay and see a pretty consistent group of peers who he thanks. This leads me to think he has a constructive relationship with a group of like-minded writers. Perhaps I need to find out how these groups formed.

Your initial comment is bang on, John. I know I've veered away from the article here, but I suppose I'm speaking as a middle-aged writer who has been through the education system, made certain choices, and is now wondering how best to build upon that foundation at this point in life. Education is ongoing, of course, but it's hard to know what path to take that will lead to better art. More formal education? Informal? Or just more writing? More patience? There is no easy path after all.

Anonymous said...

I am middle-age. You are young!

Brenda Schmidt said...

Yay! Thanks, Mom!

Ok. Erik Erikson, whose definition of middle age holds water with many, puts us both in middle age. Bah, what does he know. :)

Ken Kowal said...

- Len Gasparini

Nowadays there are
too many poets
with degrees;

most of them are
in universities,

as true poets
under the auspices
of approved theses.

In labor union lingo,
they're called scabs.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Oh my. I don't agree with that. Many of my favourite collections were written by poets with degrees.

Zachariah Wells said...

And Len Gasparini's a lousy poet... There seems to be a subset of folk who think that, because a lot of bad work is produced by CW programmes and their graduates, their own lack of a degree confers legitimacy and excellence upon their own work. It's a bit like saying that a lot of people playing eight-ball with expensive fancy cues are shitty, but I only play with a warped, tip-flattened house cue, so I must be a good pool player. But as John can attest, he almost always beats me with his fancy cue.