The mind of an artist

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If you follow me on twitter, you may know that I’ve been reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I found a copy of the book while perusing the bookshelves of a rented beach cottage in Gulf Shores, Alabama. We were vacationing there over the Thanksgiving holiday. Since I couldn’t take the book with me, I decided to download a copy on my kindle. I’ve been reading it ever since. Dang. Those Russian novelists are wordy–864 pages. Whew!

I’ll admit that part of the reason I started reading it was simply to say that I’ve read it–I know–pretentious, huh? I actually had no idea what the book was about when I started. I had just heard that it was “the single greatest novel ever written”.

Well, shucks. How can you pass up a teaser like that?

Since I’m only 60% through the book (according to my kindle), I can’t make a personal determination as to whether it merits that type of praise. But I will say that Tolstoy was an absolute master of words, and the depth of his characters, his development of them through dialogue (both internal and external) is astounding. If it’s true what they say that reading great writing improves your own writing, then I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book. Of course, many of you have probably already read it, and think it’s cute that at the age of 45 I’m just now reading it. Whateva…

I wanted to share the following passage from the book. I wonder if all artists, regardless of their medium, go through similar bouts of self-doubt when presenting their work for all the world to see:

Excerpt from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:

For the few seconds during which the visitors were gazing at the picture in silence Mihailov too gazed at it with the indifferent eye of an outsider. For those few seconds he was sure in anticipation that a higher, juster criticism would be uttered by them, by those very visitors whom he had been so despising a moment before. He forgot all he had thought about his picture before during the three years he had been painting it; he forgot all its qualities which had been absolutely certain to him–he saw the picture with their indifferent, new, outside eyes, and saw nothing good in it. He saw in the foreground Pilate’s irritated face and the serene face of Christ, and in the background the figures of Pilate’s retinue and the face of John watching what was happening. Every face that, with such agony, such blunders and corrections had grown up within him with its special character, every face that had given him such torments and such raptures, and all these faces so many times transposed for the sake of the harmony of the whole, all the shades of color and tones that he had attained with such labor–all of this together seemed to him now, looking at it with their eyes, the merest vulgarity, something that had been done a thousand times over. The face dearest to him, the face of Christ, the center of the picture, which had given him such ecstasy as it unfolded itself to him, was utterly lost to him when he glanced at the picture with their eyes. He saw a well-painted (no, not even that–he distinctly saw now a mass of defects) repetition of those endless Christs of Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and the same soldiers and Pilate. It was all common, poor, and stale, and positively badly painted–weak and unequal. They would be justified in repeating hypocritically civil speeches in the presence of the painter, and pitying him and laughing at him when they were alone again.

What say you? Can you relate to what Mihailov is going through here? I know I certainly can.

And if you’ve read it, PLEASE DON’T TELL ME HOW IT ENDS!

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