Tennessee Williams on Courage and Art

Photograph by Clifford Coffin

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

I am very democratic in my thinking on the ability of all people to have, to lead, to deserve an artistic life. I'm not saying--and you keep misunderstanding this--that everyone deserves a night at Carnegie Hall or the title of writer or artist. What I'm saying is that we can have an artistic experience in the living of our daily life, in the construction of a conversation, in the raising of a child. I think we can bring the same standards to those so-called rudimentary acts of living and infuse our lives with the benefits, the applications, of art. The Japanese arrange tea services and flowers with as much precision and as high a standard as they might apply to their theatres or their concert halls. Well, why not apply the same rigorous standards--and expect the same glorious and beneficial returns--to walking the dog or reading someone else's work or making love or talking and listening to others? I would like to think that we are raising the standards of conversation today. I would like to think--and I hope--that the quest for some sort of affirmation is not merely needy but, in some sense, artistic.

I'm going to take something Proust stated: All of us have within us a novel, and the ingredients of that novel wait within, ready to be explored. Now, does it have to be an actual novel? No. I don't think everyone should sit before the pale judgment and present for sale a novel or an autobiography, but those ingredients should illuminate the autobiography that you are living as you move about and live every day. I think lives should not merely be lived, but they should be shared, examined, remembered.

We seek opinions from others on everything medical or sexual. We can't wait to hear what others think we should do with our work, with our bodies. This, we are told, is how we learn. Well, we learn to live, and we learn to appreciate what is in the life around us, by sharing what we've seen. We can walk through fires and we can walk through meadows, and I want the witness of those who've survived both. I want to know where I'm headed and what I should bring with me. I still won't know how I'll respond or how I'll survive, but I might know how to pack for the trip--emotionally. We're back to bearing witness for others. Being there for the trips we all must take. 

Generosity, too, is an art. One that should be forever developed.

Art takes courage. Talent is there, of course, but it's courage that picks it up and allows it to walk--through fires and meadows and right into someone's heart.

©  2015   James Grissom


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