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When Less Is Enough

I took a break yesterday morning from formatting my new collection of novellas and went to the press opening of the De Kooning Retrospective at MOMA. I enjoy going to exhibitions on my own, but I also enjoy going with an artist. Though our experience of the work is always different, I learn a lot about the work itself, and the visual artist’s process. Artists are often quite verbal—they keep notebooks and sketchbooks and they read a lot—and have a poetic way of talking about their work. My cousin, Peggy Weis, an accomplished print maker, is always a joy to be with at an exhibition for this very reason. When we arrived at the room of De Kooning’s late work, she gasped and said, “Look at what happened to him. These huge canvases of sweeping brush strokes. He’s no longer painting bodies, he is using his own body to express himself.” Then a young woman arrived to tell us that it was time for the Director of the Museum and the Curators to speak. We decided to skip it and walked back through the exhibition. This seemed to be okay; no one stopped us. What a treat to have the galleries nearly to ourselves. We took our time. I was hypnotized by De Kooning's skill as a draftsman and also the way he worked the canvas month after month, adding layer upon layer of paint. I thought of my own struggle to layer work, to build texture, to stay with it in revision. And I’m pleased that I finished the last novella of my current collection because I’ve had a disrupted summer. I decided the story did not have to be as long as the others, that less was enough, that I could work—with humility—on a smaller canvas and restrain my ambition to create a master work.
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