In this week’s Wednesday 5: cultural historian Sarah Lewis asks us to consider the gift of failure; artist Agnes Martin also weighed in on failure in her creative life; Sari Bashi shares how the lack of mobility—the freedom to move from place to place—impacts the human spirit; a Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014 starts a global movement “to equalize the gender imbalance in our collective reading habits”; and a young woman pens a letter on how a university continues to fail her after a sexual assault.
How do you feel about failure? Are you open to it or do you dread it? Cultural historian and art critic Sarah Lewis wanted to address something she thought hadn’t been adequately addressed—failure! In her new book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, she investigates the question: Is failure a gift to the creative process? Lewis recently spoke at the New York Public Library with actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith on the importance of grit and perseverance in her new book. See an excerpt of their dynamic conversation below, or watch the full dialogue here.
Speaking of failure, we’re so thankful that Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has reminded us of the indomitable artist Agnes Martin and her own dances with failure and creativity. Popova writes:
“Her art has the quality of a religious utterance, almost a form of prayer,” a New York critic once remarked of legendary abstract-expressionist painter and reconstructionist Agnes Martin, as known for the transcendent power of her signature minimalist paintings as she is for being an incredibly reclusive, reticent, and media-shy artist, yet remarkably eloquent on the rare occasions she gave an interview, at once poetic and philosophical.
And on her repeated failures, we learn from Martin:
You’re permanently derailed. It’s through discipline and tremendous disappointment and failure that you arrive at what it is you must paint. . . .
For months, the first paintings don’t mean anything—nothing. But you have to keep going, despite all kinds of disappointments.
Read more at Brain Pickings.
Sari Bashi on the Freedom to Move
Sari Bashi is the founder of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that promotes the right to freedom of movement. It provides legal assistance to people in Gaza who need permits from the Israeli military in order to travel. It also engages in public advocacy, within Israel and abroad, to try to change policies that restrict freedom of movement but that don’t involve legitimate security needs. How often do we think about our freedom to move about the world? For people living in this region, it’s a 24/7 conflict. Bashi explains:
Maybe the most painful part of that is family separation: mothers who can’t reach their kids in the West Bank, husbands who can’t get back to their wives. And it affects tens of thousands of people every day.
There are jobs and economic opportunities between the two parts of the Palestinian territory that are cut off. People can’t sell goods anymore. The ice cream factory in Gaza can no longer get its ice cream to stores in the West Bank. That has a very detrimental effect on the economy.
It means that the right to engage in a dignified livelihood is not allowed. There’s a sense of living on donor aid. More than 70 percent of people in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Speaking of movementm here’s a little treat for you. Writer Joana Walsh started this brilliant movement on Twitter using the hashtag #readwomen2014 to start a global movement “to equalize the gender imbalance in our collective reading habits.” Folks have been taking note, like Explore, who recently released “14 fantastic, timeless reads by women.” We’ve shared it with you below. Happy reading. Join the #readwomen2014 movement.
- Annie Dillard on presence over productivity
- Joan Didion on self-respect
- Susan Sontag on photography as aesthetic consumerism and a form of modern violence
- Virginia Woolf on the creative benefits of keeping a diary
- Helen Keller on optimism
- Alexandra Horowitz on the blinders of attention
- Anaïs Nin on why emotional excess is essential to creativity
- Hannah Arendt on how bureaucracy fuels violence
- Jennifer Finney Boylan on what it’s like to be a transgender parent
- Anissa Ramirez on saving science education
- Jeanette Winterson on adoption and how we use storytelling to save ourselves
- Dani Shapiro on the pleasures and perils of the creative life
- Virginia Woolf on how to read a book
- Susan Sontag on literature and freedom
“Dear Harvard: You Win”
These are the kinds of stories we DON’T want to see in our college and university papers. This week the Harvard Crimson published an anonymous letter by a student and sexual-assault survivor, who shared the aftermath of the alleged assault that occurred last year and how Harvard University failed her. The letter, titled “Dear Harvard: You Win,” was published one day before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. In it, the student shares some devastating pieces of information, namely that she is still “living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.” Read the full letter here.