Agnes Martin: On the Perfection Underlying Life (+ the Panic of Complete Helplessness)

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been knocked out by artist Agnes Martin’s Writings, a slim book given to use many years ago by a friend, and which, we’ve discovered, is out-of-print and highly coveted. With good reason. It is full of treasures expressing Martin’s unique, clear and very positive thinking about the creative life.

It contains her 1973 essay “On the Perfection Underlying Life“, which, as New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl summed up:

…coolly contemplates the “panic of complete helplessness,” which “drives us to fantastic extremes.” But the problem produces its own answer. She concluded that “helplessness when fear and dread have run their course, as all passions do, is the most rewarding state of all”.

(You can read Martin’s full essay in full here. And Schjeldahl’s short bio of her here.))

Here are the hunks that we found resonated deeply:

We will all get there someday however and do the work that we are supposed to do. Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off  the track I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes and all that seems like error is not error, and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is just the next step.

 

Agnes Martin

Perfection is not necessary. Perfection you can not have. If you do what you want to do and what you can do and if you can then recognize it you will be contented. You cannot possibly know what it  will be but looking back you will not be surprised at what you have done.

 

Agnes Martin

This tiny film made for her Guggenheim retrospective gives instant illumination. (Video link here.)

 

With thanks and love to Suzanne Shaker for the perfect gift so many years ago.

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