Martha Graham: To Create And Shape The World

Photograph by Barbara Morgan

Martha Graham
From interview conducted July, 1990

This is what I have always believed: We are all artists, and we have had this glorious capacity to create and to shape the world. Man looked around and could not fathom this place on which he had found himself, and so he named things, shaped things, began to understand limits and boundaries and goals. No one grows until a limit has been placed and a goal to move beyond it is allowed.

It was not enough to know that things had names: We had to know if there were purposes to things, meanings, and so we created God, a Higher Power, rituals, appeasements. This gave our lives, our hearts, our communities a series of patterns, rhythms, needs. Out of our worship--which is not only gratitude, but which is also supplication and pain and confusion--we learned to sing and to dance and to craft words that would please our God, our higher angels, our fellow worshipers, our own sense of purpose.

I do believe in the priesthood of all believers, and I do believe in the worth and the valor of all artists, and we are all artists. There is clearly a hierarchy, and one does not confuse the brilliant child whose work hangs on the refrigerator with Picasso, but you praise the child and you allow the child to grow from that first effort. From every effort comes growth, and every effort is some form of worship. This I believe.

To be a good citizen is a form of art. To be a good friend is a form of art. There is artistry in doing well whatever it is you are needed or forced or delighted to do. In my worst forms of penury, I was a glorious artist at whatever I needed to do to have a little food and a room and some shoes. I was grateful to live and to work and to grow.

We have to be ruthless in our standards, and we have to adhere to what it is we want and demand, but we must be utterly open and democratic in understanding that everyone is working out some artistic plan, that everyone desires and deserves a means of expression, and all of us are on someone else's list of lower orders.

Wear yourself out. Aim high.


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