Saturday, August 30, 2008
Invisible Cities, Part 4: Almost Famous
"I'm leaving too, baby," Robot Boy declared in his comment to the post directly below this one. "The fatcats ruined our New York with their condo towers." In a sense, he's right. I don't think anyone can live here anymore in the gentle obscurity of impoverished solitude, the way we did twenty years ago, but I also doubt that anyone comes to New York anymore in search of such things. Times have changed.
On the other hand, there will always be the hordes of artistic strivers of various levels of ambition and ability that descend on our city like locusts each fall, whom John Zmirak mercilessly and hilariously parodies in this essay (I confess that I actually know the models for some of his thumbnail sketches quite well).
In Daniel Deronda, George Eliot's last novel, a beautiful, self-regarding young woman whose family has fallen on hard times consults the musician Herr Klesmer about her prospects of appearing on the stage. She is an accomplished drawing-room singer and pianist, but Klesmer (whom Eliot modeled on the pianist/composer Anton Rubinstein, above) discourages her, telling her that an artist's life is hard and guarantees no rewards.
With a slight turn of her head away from him, and an air of pique, she said: "I thought you, being an artist, would consider the life one of the most honourable and delightful. And if I can do nothing better? I suppose I can put up with the same risks as other people."
"Do nothing better?" said Klesmer, a little fired. "No, my dear Miss Harleth, you could do nothing better -- neither man nor woman could do anything better -- if you could do what was best or good of its kind. I am not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organizations—natures framed to love perfection and to labor for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she -- Art, my mistress -- is worthy, and I will live to merit her. An honorable life? Yes. But the honor comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honor in donning the life as a livery."