In this excerpt from Yield: The Journal of an Artist, the late Anne Truitt‘s final volume of published journals spanning Winter 2001 to Spring 2002, the sculptor muses about love, aging, and her friendship with art critic Clement Greenberg.
The creamy roses that someone gave me last week have opened wide. All except one, which remains a tight spear of bud, furled against all giving or taking. Are some people so closed, so close to despair that all their vitality goes into clutching for dear life its cold bone? If William Blake is right that “we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love,” some of us may sadly not be able to.1 Vitality underwrites objectivity, and it takes energy to be objective, particularly because seeing matters objectively reduces personal scale in the general order of things. It takes thought to acknowledge the actual existence of other people wholeheartedly. To wholeheartedly accept another person, their flavor, their will, their purpose, their sheer differentness.
And is intelligence not itself a form of vitality? Laughter too . . .
I like Blake’s “bear.” To accept being loved seems to me more difficult than loving, which is spontaneous in a lively heart. Being loved means being valued. Without being Uriah Heepish about it, I shrink from the idea of my own value—but that may be a form of conceit: being valued involves submission to evaluation.
Blake means divine “beams of love.” Surely the divine is the final objectively, the final intelligence, its beams falling evenly, on all and everyone and forever and ever.
A hot spell.
Three sculptures creep along. I just came in from the studio and haven’t even had breakfast—and don’t particularly want it either.
Routine is a lifeline.
For the memory of another is like a ship which one sees coming down a bay—the hull and the sails separating from the distance and from the outlying islands and capes—charged with freight and cutting open the waves, addressing itself in increasingly clear outlines to the impatient eyes on the waterfront; which, before it reaches the shore, grows ghostly and sinks in the sea; and one has to wait for the tides to cast on the beach, fragment by fragment, the awaited cargo.2
“Typhoon weather” is what we would have called this in Japan: the maids would have put moisture-absorptive packets in all our shoes and looked to the amado, the iron “rain door” that covered the windows.
My hair is lank and the bannisters under my hands were damp when I went down to get coffee this morning. The violence of the lightning and thunder yesterday was unnerving. We used to smile about a cousin of my mother’s who repaired to a closet with her pug dog when such storms struck.
When my children were young, I always made sure that I stood strong in storms. But there were no children to protect in this storm, and it stayed so long right over the house, shook it so, pierced it so fiercely with lightning and so utterly overwhelmed it with roll after roll after roll of thunder, that I felt a whimper bubble in my throat.
It all went on for so long that I adjusted to it and began to read (in the fading light, not venturing electricity) the catalogue from the Portland Art Museum on its current exhibition: “Clement Greenberg: A Critic’s Collection.”
Self-centered, I looked first for Bonne, 1962, was glad to see it again. I last actually saw it in 1964 before we departed for Japan.
When Alastair was born, I went up to New York to help Alexandra and stayed in the Greenbergs’ apartment a few blocks north of hers on Central Park West. Clem and Jenny were both away, so I was alone with part of this collection, and know many of the works.
Their photographs stirred memories, not so much of themselves but more of Clem’s sitting among them, sitting forward, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, alert as an eagle on a peak watching the plain below, ready to swoop.
Anthony Caro writes in this catalogue of the value of Clem’s comments in the studio. I don’t remember comments; I remember the value of his appreciation, his vivid, quick, utterly present grasp of my work, his openness to it—without let or hindrance. The sheer encouragement of it: irreplaceable.
And I remember what good company he was. There was no subject on earth or in heaven that Clem didn’t enjoy discussing. I wish that we were once again lunching at Prunier’s in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo: vodka martinis and platters of oysters flat in their shells on top of cracked ice. Now what I would like to discuss is the surprise of aging. Clem was brave. He understood how raw it is to be alive, yet tried never to flinch.
“You can no more choose whether or not to like a work of art than you can choose to have sugar taste sweet or lemons taste sour.”
“A precious freedom lies in the very involuntariness of aesthetic judging: the freedom to be surprised, taken aback, have your expectations confounded, the freedom to be inconsistent and to like anything in art as long as it is good—the freedom, in short, to let art stay open. [. . .] You relish your helplessness in the matter, you relish the fact that in art things happen of their own accord and not yours, that you have to like things you don’t want to like, and dislike things that you do want to like. You acquire an appetite not just for the disconcerting but for the state of being disconcerted.”3
I don’t, after all, need to go back to Prunier’s. One of the arts of aging is to “acquire an appetite not just for the disconcerting but for the state of being disconcerted.”
1. William Blake, “The Little Black Boy,” in Oxford Book of English Verse, ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908), 560–61.
2. Glenway Wescott, The Grandmothers: A Family Portrait (New York: Athenaeum, 1927), 6.
3. Clement Greenberg, “Problems of Criticism II: Complaints of an Art Critic,” Artforum, October 1967, quoted in Clement Greenberg: A Critic’s Collection, ed. Karen Wilkin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 15.
From Yield by Anne Truitt. Published by Yale University Press in 2022. Reproduced with permission.
Anne Truitt was an American artist whose bold use of geometry and color signaled a new direction for modern sculpture. Today she is internationally acclaimed not just for her art but for her journals of her life as an artist.