Divine Dissatisfaction

This inspiration appeared again today. Timely. Timeless. I want to share it with you: what MARTHA GRAHAM wrote to AGNES DE MILLE touches the deepest part of an artist’s life…

Photo by Barbara Morgan

Photo of Martha Graham by Barbara Morgan

According to Agnes de Mille, from her book, Martha: The Life and Work Of Martha Graham A Biography, 1991, Martha actually said this to her while they were having a soda at Schraffts, in 1943.

De Mille in Oklahoma! Photo courtesy of the Rodgers & Hamerstein Organization

de Mille in Oklahoma! 1943. Photo courtesy of the Rodgers & Hamerstein Organization

Agnes de Mille had just received accolades for her opening in “Oklahoma!” and still doubting her work, “I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.”…and Martha leaned over, and said in a quiet voice:

“There is a vitality,  a life force,
a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

And If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased…

There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes us more alive than the others.”

 Meryl Streep recites the letter, with Yo Yo Ma performing George Crumb’s ‘Sonata for Solo Cello’. WOW. Starts at 1:32′

Two of our greatest artists who know how to “keep the channel open”…

Photos by Barbara Morgan (1900-1992) of Martha Graham  (1894-1991) Photo Exhibition on view at the Hudson River Museum 

October 17, 2015 – January 17, 2016



Barbara Morgan: Martha Graham - Extasis, 1935

Barbara Morgan: Martha Graham – Extasis, 1935, courtesy TheRedList

 enjoy your day as you keep your channel open.
3 Responses to “Divine Dissatisfaction”
  1. Tim McMullen says:

    Very nice post, and fine words for the artist to keep in mind. They are reminiscent of this quote from Emerson’s “Self Reliance,” which was one of the most important and profound ideas that I had the pleasure of sharing with my students. Of course, he was not speaking of artists in particular but of every individual.

    “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried”.

  2. Bev Delyea says:

    Many thanks, Lilian, for posting this inspiring item (items, if you count the video) in your blog. As I move through a rough time, artistically, and feel under-inspired to mosaic and overwhelmed with non-art matters, the timing of Martha Graham’s words are apt. As I see artists who appear clever, confident and productive, I make the grave error of comparing myself and my art to them and theirs. I do believe I am unique and my gift of my creativity is unique. I needed a reminder to stop blocking my own way. (This post will go at the top of my digital “reading list” to recharge as required.) Again, Thank You.

    • sfmosaic says:

      sorry for the late reply, Bev, i’m so glad you enjoyed this post, and sometimes, just the right thing comes to you when you need it, and then you know you’re on the right track.

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