Some time after writing or painting a work, I can look at my piece with more objectivity and freshness, almost as if someone else made the work. Whether I like the work or not is not nearly as interesting as what it feels like to hear/see myself as an outsider might. Even more curious is the idea that I am seeing the work not as just any outsider, but with my own personal way of seeing art. I’m usually surprised that the writing reads more coherently than I expected, or that the painting has some subtle weirdness that I’m kind of proud of. Once in a while I’ll think, “Damn, that’s good,” and other times, “What crazy inner editor let this pass inspection?”
Eudora Welty wrote the following words about her experience with this phenomenon, revealing how vulnerable even the very accomplished artist feels when sharing her vision and seeing her own creations as if for the first time.
“At the time of writing, I don’t write for my friends or myself, either; I write for it, for the pleasure of it. I believe if I stopped to wonder what So-and-so would think, or what I’d feel like if this were read by a stranger, I would be paralyzed. I care what my friends think, very deeply—and it’s only after they’ve read the finished thing that I really can rest, deep down. But in the writing, I have to just keep going straight through with only the thing in mind and what it dictates.
It’s so much an inward thing that reading the proofs later can be a real shock. When I received them for my first book—no, I guess it was for Delta Wedding—I thought, I didn’t write this. It was a page of dialogue—I might as well have never seen it before. I wrote to my editor, John Woodburn, and told him something had happened to that page in the typesetting. He was kind, not even surprised—maybe this happens to all writers. He called me up and read me from the manuscript—word for word what the proofs said. Proofs don’t shock me any longer, yet there’s still a strange moment with every book when I move from the position of writer to the position of reader, and I suddenly see my words with the eyes of the cold public. It gives me a terrible sense of exposure, as if I’d gotten sunburned.
–Eudora Welty, The Paris Review interview (1972)
The bird print featured in this post is by Jane Marshall of Birmingham, AL