Even Homer Sometimes Nods

by F.

And sometimes it’s comforting to see it happen. Why? Well, it’s hard to look at masterpiece after masterpiece after masterpiece made by others and not get dispirited. Inevitably, there are days when you produce trash. If motivation starts to flag, it’s not a bad idea to take a look at what someone you admire did on a bad day. Here are some Sargent drawings in the Met’s collection:

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This from the man who painted Carnation Lily, Lily Rose? Was he drunk or something? It’s useful to remember that the sample we usually see of an artist’s work is a biased sample: it’s the good stuff, maybe the best stuff that artist ever did. More Sargent misfires:

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This is just crap, but that’s just the way it goes when you’re a maker, as we all are:

For the string does not always return the sound that the hand and mind desire, and although you seek a low note, it very often sends back a high one. Nor will the bow always strike whatever it threatens. But where many qualities sparkle in a poem, I will not find fault with a few blemishes, which either carelessness introduced or human nature, too little vigilant, did not avoid.

OK, fine, Horace, but what if there are a lot of blemishes?

What then? Just as the scribe who copies books, if he always makes the same mistake no matter how much he is warned, has no claim on our indulgence, and a lyre-player is mocked who always strikes the same false note, so the poet who is frequently found wanting turns into another Choerilus who, amidst my scorn for his work, astonishes me the two or three times he is really good; I am also offended when great Homer falls asleep on us, but it is permitted for some drowsiness to creep into a long work

The quotes are from Ars Poetica, written around 18 B.C. An English version can be found here. And, lest you think I’m being a little unfair to Sargent’s sketches—which are just doodles after all—note that the man could produce in a few strokes drawings of incredible nuance:

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Now that’s what I’m talking about.

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