Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Voices

Above was done with colored pencil and watercolor by Mary Lee Eggart from a lovely series, A Book of Hours.  I particularly enjoy this medium, and have studied drawing enough to accumulate a lovely array of Prismacolor pencils, and to realize what patience goes into a sizable drawing - this one is one in a series called Book of Hours. I think every shade of every color is found here, as well as the influence of monks who illuminated manuscripts, botanists who detailed the features of plants and birds before photography was available to anyone, and folk artists.

I suspect that even in the near-past of crazy abundance, very few pencil artists made a living in ways connected to their art. I suppose pencil drawing strikes many people as too close to ordinary to deserve respect. We have all held pencils, after all, and drawn in the margins.

What I learned when I studied drawing was that to make something I liked, I would have to learn everything about creating visual art. Then I would have to learn this specific medium, the pencil. It is so friendly and easy to undertake. Even the shavings are pretty. But a full-scale drawing takes countless hours. I am not a long-distance runner.

I can still think, though with some confusion. These days I find myself immersed in deep and wide questions about art. I am looking at it from an art critic's point of view, thanks to gifts from my neighbor, Terry Barrett. And I see it from the point of view of a poet on a small raft in a wild sea of cultural change.

This morning I received an e-mail announcing that a standard anthology of bright new voices will not be published this year. Yesterday I received a rejection from an academic journal, and found myself going to their website to see whether the journal itself is being shut down. (Not yet.)

For poets and serious writers - those of us who work at art for its own sake - the karma goes like this: fewer full-time enrollments in creative writing programs, because suddenly everyone sees the need to make a living. Fewer teachers hired; new jobs frozen. Academics who used to have released time so they could run a journal are now told to teach full-time. And where is the money to produce the journal going to come from? The journal may be dear to the professors' hearts, but you have to pay the electric bill first.

It was a strange little current of its own, the academic approach to literature and the arts, the underwriting of journals that published all those clamorous new voices; the whole enterprise. By and large, the poems found in these journals are difficult, demanding a patient, educated reader. That reader no longer has a department budget for subscriptions; and may be out of work. S/he does not renew the subscription, because Art is not a necessity.

We discuss this now and then, my friends and I, and we maintain that art is necessary to the soul. But if you come down to bread or roses, you need the bread to keep the body alive. I suppose it has always been everyone's task to find some way to survive, and at the same time, to have a niche in our days, in our lives, in which we nourish our souls.


  1. The link to this image is no longer working, but you can see my drawings from the "A Book of Hours" series here: http://meggart.startlogic.com/hours.html

    Mary Lee Eggart

    1. Thank you, Mary Lee. What lovely work.