Sunday, November 14, 2010

To The Wasserstein Prize Committee, addenda: Learn from Your Betters, Listen To Artists

Just one more thing. As I've stated many times, I've spent countless hours over the past decade or so reading and evaluating the work of many young, unsung playwrights, both for my own (now defunct) theatre company and for other organizations. Quite a few years ago I read Nancy Milford's remarkable biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay. In it, I found the following passage, an excerpt from a letter Millay wrote whilst judging poets for the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. It's as good advice as any for anyone seeking to promote the work of young artists of any discipline.

"Of the six writers I am recommending this year, three are
definitely revolutionists, one is definitely a classicist, one is
probably mad and the other is doubtless trying to recover from shell-shock. What
are you going to do about them?...I have come loudly out into the open, and
am running the risk of making an utter fool of myself. I think the
Guggenheim Foundation cannot properly be administered on any other terms; we may
not foster the conservative at the expense of the experimental; the solid
at the expense of the slippery; we must take chances; we must incur danger.
Otherwise we shall eventually become an organization that gives prizes for
acclaimed accomplishment, not fellowships for obscure talent, tangible
promise, probable development and possible achievement."
ESVM, 1938

If you believe art matters, it matters what you do about it. Don't be afraid of making fools of yourselves. Take risks. Otherwise, why do we bother?

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