Honoré de Balzac is one of my absolute favorite writers. His work, his scope, his humanity – I’m a little fanatic about it. If you’re looking for writing that deals with urban life, love, striving and art making, he’s your guy (and may I humbly suggest starting with Lost Illusions – I did and was hooked.)
This is all said to precede a quote I want to share with you from Cousin Bette that inspires me regularly – to work harder and to revere the pursuit of artistic creation. I hope it does the same for you – it’s not brief, but it is well worth the read.
“Mental work, labor in the higher regions of the mind, is one of the most strenuous kinds of human effort. The quality that above all deserves the greatest glory in art – and by that word we must include all creations of the mind – is courage; courage of a kind of which common minds have no conception, and which perhaps is here described for the first time…To plan, dream, and imagine fine works is a pleasant occupation to be sure. It is like smoking magic cigars, like leading the life of a courtesan who pleases only herself. The work is then envisaged in all the grace of infancy, in the wild delight of conception, in fragrant flowerlike beauty, with the ripe juices of the fruit savored in anticipation. Such are the pleasures of invention in the imagination. The man who can explain his design in words passes for an extraordinary man. All artists and writers possess this faculty. But to produce, to bring to birth, to bring up the infant work with labor, to put it to bed full-fed with milk, to take it up again every morning with inexhaustible maternal love, to lick it clean to dress it a hundred times in lovely garment that it tears up again and again; never to be discouraged by the convulsions of this mad life, and to make of it a living masterpiece that speaks to all eyes in sculpture, or to all minds in literature, to all memories in painting , to all hearts in music – that is the task of execution. The hand must be ready at every instant to obey the mind. And the creative moment of the mind do not come to order. These, like the moments of love, are discontinuous.
This creative habit, the indefatigable maternal love that make a mother (the natural masterpiece that Raphael so well understood) – in short, this intellectual maternal faculty that is so difficult to acquire, may easily be lost. Inspiration gives genius its opportunity. She runs, not on a razors’ edge, but in the air itself, and flits away with all the suspicious wildness of a crow; she wears no scarf by which the poet may catch hold of her, her hair is flame, she is as elusive as those lovely rose and white flamingos that are the despair of sportsmen. And work is a weary struggle at once dreaded and loved by those fine and powerful natures who are often broken under the strain of it. A great contemporary poet has said, speaking of this appalling labor, “I begin it with despair, but I leave it with regret.” Let the ignorant take note! If the artist does not throw himself into his work like Curtius in to the gulf, like a soldier into the breach, unreflectingly; and if, in that crater, he does not dig like a miner buried under a fall of rock; if, in fact, he thinks about the difficulties instead of overcoming them one by one, like those mortals favored by the fairies, who, in order to win their princesses, fight a whole series of combats against successive enchantments, the work will never be completed; it will perish in the studio, where production becomes impossible, and the artist look on at the suicide of his own talent. Rossini, whose talent was in an order comparable with that of Raphael, provides a striking example of this, with his youthful days of poverty, contrasting with the wealth and success of his riper years. And it is for that reason that the same reward, the same triumph, the same laurels, are accorded to the great poets as to the great generals.”
What’s your favorite inspiring quote or passage? I’d love to know…leave a comment!:)