candour & make-believe: James Lord in company with Balthus, Giacometti, Beckett

Creation goes hand in hand with revelation, and the fullest measure of the former comes from a candid profusion of the latter, while common sense advises that the creator’s life is paltry stuff compared with the great existence expected of his his work. Having created it, moreover, the very best thing he can do by it is to die.

Balthus was not his real name. But reality, to be sure, never very bearable to any of us, was a matter of exceptionally minor moment to him. All artists inevitably lead their lives in a continuum of imagination and make-believe. They see the world through eyes conditioned by their commitment to reveal a highly personal and unique vision of it. Balthus has been an extreme example of this disposition in an era little prepared to understand or encourage it.

– James Lord, Some Remarkable Men: Further Memoirs, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996, p. 146

I had written and published in the press a long, moralizing letter to Picasso, denouncing his failure as a committed member of the Communist Party to condemn the brutal Soviet oppression during the Hungarian uprising. When I next visited the studio after publication of the letter, Alberto glared at me in pursed silence by way of greeting. When I said hello, he didn’t answer. Plainly, much was amiss. Aware I would not be spared knowledge of what this was, I kept silent. After a moment, which seemed itself as long as a crime, Alberto said, “You did wrong.”

“I suppose you mean the letter to Picasso,” I said.

“To write it was possible. To publish it should have been impossible.”

“Why?” I asked. “Is Picasso above criticism? You yourself are constantly saying how much you disapprove of him personally and dislike his art.”

“That may be so,” Alberto acknowledged. “I have a right to opinions. But I have no right to pass judgement in public, given the fact that I myself am a menace to public welfare. Like you. And like Picasso. You see, Plato was right about artists, and I don’t want to argue the point. You did wrong. Whether Picasso is right is irrelevant. Do you take issue with the logic of irrelevance?”

– Ibid., p. 227

Beckett on Giacometti: “He was not obsessed but possessed.” … “I suggested that it might be more fruitful to concentrate on the problem itself rather than struggle constantly to achieve a solution. That is, by accepting the impossibility of what he was struggling to achieve and by developing the inner nature and exploiting the natural resources of that very impossibility, he might achieve a result of greater complexity and richness than by continuing over and over to struggle to do what he knew to be impossible: the creation of an illusion as real as reality. But Giacometti was determined to continue with his struggle,trying to progress even it it was only by so much as an inch, or a centimeter, or a millimeter.”

James Lord: “But in the absolute, … a progress of a millimeter is infinite.”

Beckett: “If possible.”

Lord: “It has often been suggested … that there are parallels between your work and Giacometti’s, that both illuminate the solitude, alienation, and despair which characterize the world today.”

Beckett: “I’ve never felt that painting or sculpture can express the same things as literature. I don’t see any parallel between the two arts. Often I felt that Giacometti’s artistic effort was very like a child’s game of trying to catch with one hand a finger of the other, which is determined not to be caught.”

– In ibid., p. 289