Thursday, April 20, 2006

Paul Dorrell: Living the Artist's Life

You may remember that we noted in a couple of previous posts, 9 March 2006 and 21 February 2006, that Paul Dorrell's publisher was giving away (to established bloggers only) 250 copies of his non-fiction book Living the Artist's Life. Well, eventually a copy landed on my desk, and I've been reading it with some interest.

Living the Artist's Life was first published in hardback, by Hillstead Publishing of Kansas City, in 2004. The second, paperback, edition came out in March 2005. The book has a dedicated web site, and you can see from the lengthy list of reviews that it attracted a fair amount of attention and praise.

Essentially, this is a book written by an art gallery owner to provide advice to visual artists on how to further their careers. More to the point, perhaps, as far as this blog is concerned, is the fact that while Paul Dorrell is not a visual artist himself, he is very definitely a writer -- to be specific, a novelist. And the book itself makes clear that much of what Dorrell has to say is also relevant to writers.

On the very first page of the book, Dorrell tells us that he has been a gallery owner and art consultant since 1991. In that field he is considered a success. 'That's cool, but what I am first is an artist myself -- a novelist. That is the primary passion of my life.'

Fortunately, from the point of view of visual artists, Dorrell then goes on to give masses of useful advice to those who are desperately trying to get their work taken up by a gallery -- much as writers pester publishers. In the process, he is amazingly frank about the economics of running a gallery. His own, for example, ran at a considerable loss for a long time. At one point, when about $100,000 in debt, he could not afford to renew the fire insurance... and, yes, there was then a fire. However, he staggered on.

In addition to all that, Dorrell reveals his painful frustrations in trying to get his career as a writer off the ground. It took him six novels and fifteen years to land an agent, and when he did he became a classic case of 'We loved this book but...' The agent had 36 rejections before he gave up trying to sell a novel which many editors admired but could not figure out how to market.

Dorrell is brutally frank about the effect which all this had on his own state of mind. He tells us that at least twice a year he suffers from bouts of clinical depression which last a couple of months.

Overall this is a brave book. It is more self-revelatory than most people would be comfortable with.

As far as I am aware, Paul Dorrell has yet to see one of his novels in print, and at the very end of the book, he has things to say about failure.

What happens if you 'fail' and have to join the business world, or some world similar to it? The truth is, you haven't failed. All those years of struggle, adversity and wrestling with the muse have brought, in return, these years of growth and a hopefully mature outlook. Without the struggle you wouldn't have had the growth.
In other words, Paul Dorrell is very much of the 'you can do it if you just stick at it long enough' school of thought. To which the response of this rather world-weary old reader is: Hmm. Well. Yes. Maybe.

But it's worth noting, I think, that, before he found Hillstead Publishing, Dorrell had Living the Artist's Life rejected 177 times. So for him, at least, perseverance paid.

8 comments:

archer said...

What happens if you 'fail' and have to join the business world, or some world similar to it?

Why wait to join? Do it right away--you'll be in the company of Kafka and Melville and Chaucer.

I've previously posted H.L. Mencken's comments on the general problem of writing while earning a living. Here they are again. The comments appeared in the Chicago Sunday Tribune on December 28, 1924.

". . . Like most other editors, I receive a great many letters from them [young authors], and many of those letters ask for counsel. One question is in nearly all of them: shall I throw up my job in the rolling mills and devote my whole time to poetry (or to short stories, or to criticism, or to the novel), or shall I hang on to my job and try to write in the scant leisure of my evenings, or on the Sabbath, when I should be engaged in religious exercises?

"My answer is always the same: I advise them all to stick to their jobs. And for a plain reason: I do not believe it is possible for a man to write more in a day of 10 hours--that is, more of the best that is in him, more that is genuinely worth writing--than he writes in a day of three hours. The view to the contrary, so common among young authors, is a great delusion. It is grounded upon the error of assuming that creative work is a mere matter of time. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort; it is a matter purely of ideas. The more good ideas, the better the artist. I believe thoroughly that the world has never seen a poet or a novelist who had more good ideas than he could get on paper in three hours' work a day. There have been plenty of men, of course, who write more, but what they wrote after the three hours were up was second-rate stuff--and sometimes third-rate, sixth- and tenth-rate stuff.


"The danger that confronts the young author with nothing to do all day but write lies in the temptation to go on after the period of good work is up. The day lies before him. He still has paper on his table and ink in his well. He has notions of industry; it seems shameful to quit so soon; moreover, it is apt to cause talk within his family. So he plugs away gallantly and the result is a great mass of stuff that begins by being good, then proceeds to be indifferent and ends by being dreadful. But it is all precious to him. Contemplating it, he quickly loses his critical sense. In the end he is judged by his average; and his average tends to go lower and lower. I could name names, but refrain in Christian charity. The beaches of beautiful letters are strewn with the corpses of diligent men."

Pacze Moj said...

177 rejections? That must take not only a "try try try" attitude, but also a stubborn belief in the value of one's work.

archer: Fascinating thoughts in the Mencken quotations you've posted. Of course, it goes against the notion that pure work -- monkeys at typewriters -- pays off, so, perhaps, it's advice often unfairly rejected in a society that prides itself on equality. When equal time spent by two writers yields unequal results, there's a problem...

Fine, fine blog!

:)

ivan said...

Thanks, Archer for re-familiarizing myself with Mencken.
Such a fair breeze over the decades with all the dreck around.
People who think they can write and write only should have a look at the Mencken Chrestomathy or other old back numbers to see how a real master does it.
Thanks for waking me up.
Ivan

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