Gertrude Stein, FailureComplications Ensue
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

We went to see the Steins Collect exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's based on the stunning collections of modern art that Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo assembled in the first half of the 20th Century. There are the paintings they bought, and the paintings they looked at but couldn't afford, and paintings of them.

Gertrude Stein is famous as a modernist author; as Picasso's first champion and collector; as the gal who helped Hemingway develop his style; and as someone whose Saturday evenings gathered some of the most promising painters and art fiends in Paris in the 20's.

But what is striking about the exhibit are the many times you read about how she had to sell her art to support herself; or trade some old paintings she loved for a new painting she couldn't afford; or how she sold art to publish her books.

Gertrude Stein was a big self-promoter, writing to publishers that she was the first new thing in American literature since Henry James. But she must also have felt like a terrible failure. She must have felt frustrated that publishers wouldn't actually pay her for her books. She organized an exhibit for Picabia in Chicago that sold exactly one painting. She must have wondered how many of those people showing up at her dinners were coming for the food or to use her connections.

The thing is, when people look at you, they see your successes. They see the Gertrude Stein that was right about Picasso, and whose AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS brought Paris in the 20's back to life (and inspired Lisa and me to go to Paris and be writers). They see the Terry Gilliam of BRAZIL, not the director who couldn't get DON QUIXOTE off the ground.

So when you look at your own works, count your successes. Learn from your failures, but don't judge yourself by them. Anyone who's trying to do something new will have periods of failure. It's the peaks of your accomplishment that set you apart from the people who never risk anything.



This is excellent. Fascinating information, and what a good point you make. It's hard not to focus on what we perceive as our own failures, but so necessary for our advancement in our craft (whatever that craft is) that we focus instead on the successes, and even on the possibilities for success.

Thank you.

Beth Stilborn

By Blogger Beth Stilborn, at 8:31 PM  

I find myself reading J.K. Rowling's Harvard commencement address on the benefits of failure whenever I need a pick-me-up. Perfect for anyone, but especially for writers.

By Blogger Holly, at 11:21 AM  

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