In the fall of 1980 New York City’s Museum of Modern Art hosted a Picasso retrospective displaying more than 1,000 pieces of his works. The exhibit was designed chronologically, starting with his work when he was a boy up until the work created in the last days if his life. He died in 1973. He was 91.
Picasso was staggeringly prolific and courageous on the creative front. I’ll get to that in a moment. I went to the MOMA exhibit twice. There was no way I could absorb all of his work in one visit. Two was not enough either. MOMA had moved virtually all its other art into storage and perhaps lent some to other exhibits in order to make room for the Spaniard’s work. As I made my way through one section of the exhibit to another I recalled an interview with Picasso in which the interviewer told him that some complained that he kept changing his style. I don’t remember Picasso’s response word for word, but the gist of it was (and I agree), Style! What’s style?! Why would I want to do the same thing over and over again?! The hell with style! The man was not shy nor soft-spoken and, I suspect had we met, I probably wouldn’t have liked him very much. Nevertheless, I love his work and admire his work ethic immensely.
Back to his courage. There came a moment during my second visit when I was looking at an abstract nude. It suddenly occurred to me that if he had for one second worried about what someone was going to think of his work he wouldn’t have done it, in this case, painted it. It was the first time another artist (outside the world of dance where I was instinctively fearless, it never dawned on me to be otherwise) taught me that in order to paint, write, sculpt, compose, act, conduct, sing, choreograph, and so on, you have to be fearless and, given that there is, I believe, no such thing as fearless in the pure sense of the word, you have to be willing to endure the fear and create anyway. Relieve it of its decision-making power if you will.
We are always, it seems to me, faced with change in one way or another. Change can be, as I suspect you already know, scary. The TV character Monk (a favorite of mine) put it very well when he said, “I don’t mind change, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Well, if your task is to create, and create to the best of your ability, you have to be there when it happens. This, of course, is where the courage comes in.
I am engaged in some writing now that requires courage and while the task is not always pleasant, I will not flinch from it. I will set the words down as clear and crisp as I can, and deal with the at times painful feelings I’ll be required to go through to get the writing done. After all, if there is one thing I don’t at all fear, it’s saying this: I am a writer, and no person, place or thing has the power (or will ever have the power) to change that. Not now. Not ever.