32: From history’s perspective.

- June 25, 2017 -

When we look back at some of the greatest artists throughout history — the composers, the poets, the painters.. — we almost never discuss their work in terms of handfuls of months or even individual years. Instead, we consider their work in broad, decades-long strokes: we weigh their output as a whole, taking into account the art they produced over the course of a lifetime.

In other words, from history’s perspective, the short-term successes or failures in no way define the artists we have most come to revere, the Mozarts and the Shakespeares and the van Goghs. What does define these artists, however, is the extent to which, over the years, they were able to continue on in pursuit of further developing their craft.

You see, while no single work defined them, their ability to keep working did. If Mozart had only ever written one symphony, for instance, or if Shakespeare had only ever penned a few sonnets, would history remember them, or would history remember their contemporaries?

. . .

As a writer, this type of long-term thinking is one of my greatest sources of inspiration.

Whenever I think about my career in this way, from the broad strokes of history’s perspective, I’m able to find a great deal of comfort in recognizing that nothing I produce — and certainly no single work — will ever be a total summation of my skills. Rather, whatever writing I do will simply be a demonstration of my skills: a representation of what I was able to produce over a certain period of time, given a certain set of constraints, and at a certain point in my artistic development.

After all, Mozart is no longer writing symphonies, Shakespeare is no longer penning sonnets, and van Gogh is no longer doing any painting. Do any of us imagine, though, that the work which they managed to complete captures the full extent of their capabilities, or do we acknowledge that those works are simply a demonstration of the many more works which they could have produced?


Looking ahead,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.