Kathryn Harrison on Joan Acocella

From the New York Times Book Review:

Harr190How many artists subscribe to the notion that creative success depends on input from the fickle muse or her modern avatar, mental illness? Probably very few. Like all romantic conceits, it fails to acknowledge the grubby reality of mortal life, in this case the dedicated, often torturous labor a writer or dancer or sculptor invests in what he or she makes. Among the lucid and often delightful observations Joan Acocella makes in her new collection of critical essays, “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints,” none is more important than this: “What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite … ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.” In fact, Acocella suggests, the remarkable and sustained career of a prodigy like George Balanchine, to name one of her subjects, proves this artist “not an example, but a freak, of ego strength.”

Which doesn’t make the creative process any less mysterious. What emerges from a reading of “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints” is Acocella’s — and through hers our own — respect and in certain cases even reverence for the dogged faith on which an artistic career is built. We know the seductive alchemy of art. To transform private anguish into a narrative of truth if not beauty; to make sense where there was none; to bring order out of chaos: these are the promises art makes.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]