An Artist’s Sorrows —

Patrick Bruce, Forms, 1918

Patrick Henry Bruce was one of the early and most ardent Matisse pupils and soon he made little Matisses, but he was not happy. In explaining his unhappiness he told Gertrude Stein, they talk about the sorrows of great artists, the tragic unhappiness of great artists but after all they are great artists.  A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist.”

—  Gertrude Stein, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

How true. And how rarely said. Gertrude Stein, who was a great artist, records this bit of conversation with someone who was almost a great artist. Pat Bruce was a very very good painter, but he was also a perfectionist, and always measured himself against the very greats, such as Picasso and Matisse. He destroyed many of his own paintings, and ultimately committed suicide in 1936.

For the less-than-great artist, then, and for the little artist, which is most of us, sorrows pile upon sorrows, and the invisibility of those sorrows is not least among them. Stein’s book is the only place I have ever come across an acknowledgement of this indivisibility of the artist’s work —

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2 Responses to An Artist’s Sorrows —

  1. mercy says:

    Even the little artist with sorrows must be envied his/her art, because it offers a venue for expressing his sorrow which itself could help lighten his load. But hearing the story of Pat Bruce and similar others you wonder, does sorrow make the artist or the artist the sorrow, or if the artist does not directly manufacture his sorrow, does his art make it more profound, accentuate it, throw it into greater relief, and in the end consume him? then, happy the little non-artist for their inability to use their sorrows in any art, they hardly need our pity, do they?

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  2. Touch2Touch says:

    Mercy, Therese (as you know) posted this comment on Facebook, but it never made it to the blog, so I’m posting it in this reply:

    “The topic is so dense it could be the focus of a blog. Is passionate creative expression about giving something inside of us voice? Is it ultimately about personal or communal transformation, and which takes precedence in the work of life? What place do we give the life force in moderating our efforts and the experience of achievements and failures? Very provocative reflection Judy.”
    From Therese Bertsch

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