to set color free.
My life as a creative is dictated both by my ability to create and to share my work with readers. However, creatives also must often consider the issue of making money from their creations. Is creating as a job the ultimate goal, or is money merely a tangential benefit? Does capitalism affect the output of art? If you’re trying to make money, do you compromise your vision?
Daybook by Anne Truitt tackles both the issue of finding the freedom to create and the monetary ties that bind artists. Daybook is a journal Truitt writes over the course of several years in an attempt to understand her own artistic personality which, she initially believes, differs from how she understands herself as a woman and mother. She is seeking, somehow, to blend these personas together in her own mind. Her inner world of domesticity, her enjoyment of chores, the small acts of motherhood, constantly jut up against her world of abstract, minimalist artwork, which was still a male-dominated movement.
There is one point where her son, Sam, is helping her move some larger sculptures and Truitt asks his opinion of them. Sam admits he has never really understood her work. She is astonished, realizing that her child didn’t somehow innately connect with what she was doing. They both laugh. This, to me, is the distillation of creation — you can create a child wholly incomprehensible to you and create art wholly incomprehensible to others. Life itself is subjective and so will our understandings be.
The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity. As in any profession, facility develops.
Truitt explores the multitude of forces that act upon her and thus act upon her art. At different points, she will ‘see clearly’ something that happened years ago and work outward from that initial vision. Her understanding of how the public clamors to know the private lives of artists, how they can no longer separate them from their art, feels incredibly prescient to the modern age of social media. Of people messaging you to ask, ‘is this autobiographical?’
The Renaissance emphasis on the individuality of the artists has been so compounded by the contemporary fascination with personalities that artists stand in danger of plucking the feathers of their own breast.
Truitt also reveals her struggles with criticism and with money. Her journal tracks the lifespan of a few different exhibits: from the anxiety of set up, to the debut, to the display, and, potentially, to sales. “Reaction to the Arundel exhibit seems to be rather more than negative, verging on the vicious,” she notes. Her Arundel works are all white paintings and people write letters complaining of the public funded museum ‘wasting’ money on her art show. The caveat, of course, is that Anne Truitt has the backing of a New York gallery and a ‘modest inheritance,’ yet still struggles to support herself and her children with her art. She acknowledges the inheritance throughout, but it does make me ask the age-old question of whether or not one can be a full-time artist without the financial support of either family or partner.
The fact is — and as always when I see a fact plainly I feel lightened, set free from the more or less conscious effort to maintain a delusion — that I cannot expect to earn a living from my work in art.
Although I am a writer, not a sculptor or painter, I found this book an important guide to living a creative’s life. The things she had to sacrifice and risk to pursue her goals were particularly resonant, as I imagine it would be for anyone who had to make a choice in moving forward with their art.
I also simply love reading journals, even if they are written with the intent of publication. Truitt’s is loosely formatted and wide in scope and I loved every moment of it. The first journal that really sent me was The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavatis, and more recently books like Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso, 91/92 by Lauren Elkin, and Drifts by Kate Zambreno have often occupied large swaths of my creative consciousness. I special-ordered Anne Truitt’s second collected journal, Turn, because I immediately needed more of her voice. And, in the process, discovered a posthumous journal of hers, Yield, notes from 2001-2002 with a forward by Rachel Kushner, will be released in May 2022, the same month as my own novel.
(Image is of Anne Truitt’s Arundel paintings, re-exhibited at the Matthew Marks Gallery in LA, 2022, second image is of in-progress sculptures in her studio)