Martha Graham: Blinders and Solitary Work

Martha Graham and her company of dancers, photographed by Richard Avedon, in 1961.

Interview with Graham
New York City

Most of your time as an artist is spent working, thinking, planning, praying, hoping--all about your next project, or about the preservation of past projects. What I'm saying is that the artist is remarkably self-obsessed, and this is unavoidable if the work is to be any good, or if those who depend upon you for work can eat and work and feel somewhat safe in a remarkably unsafe world. This is something--what am I trying to say? It's important to step away from all of this planning and thinking and praying and look outside of oneself to see what others are doing. You'll find they have similar struggles and successes. You'll find that they can teach you better ways to do things.

You work very hard to put blinders on that can allow you to do your work with no interference from the rest of the world, and there is a time for that. No one in the world who has created important work was fully supported: There were always people hovering about to tell them that they were dreaming; they were deluded; they weren't talented enough. Almost everyone enjoys telling you what you should do, as opposed to what you must do, what is uniquely yours to do. So I'm all for the blinders. But I'm also for the removal of those blinders, so that you can go out and support and study what others are doing.

Louis Horst once told me that I would know I was a true artist when I was comfortable asking people for money to continue doing my work. I didn't believe him, or I didn't want to believe him, but now I do. When I really saw that I was working well and consistently, and when I had a company of extraordinary dancers, I felt no shame in going all over the place and asking for money so that this work could be shared. It takes time in coming; it has to be earned; it becomes easier when you see what others are doing and how they are surviving. And it's important to give to them whatever you can--money, space, care, food--when they feel comfortable coming to you for aid in getting their work out there.

I believe in the community of artists. I also believe in blinders and solitary work. They are both necessary, and both are relationships that must be worked on.

© 2013 James Grissom

From Artistic Suicide


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