Soon I’ll be starting my annual reading vacation (not a vacation from reading . . . a vacation where I read non-stop), so I looked through my book collection to create a worthy pile. Almost immediately, I noticed and pulled down my well worn copy of An Open Life, which is a series of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Michael Toms. I haven’t looked at this book in a very long time.
Here’s a passage I marked over two decades ago, before I became a teacher, wherein Campbell reminisces about seeing a Picasso exhibition.
This winter in New York the big thing for me was the Picasso exhibition, four miles of pictures by this man. At age sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection. He had gotten into the academy by passing the exam when he was thirteen. So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation. You see it visually as you go from one display room to the next. He was like the growing point, actually the growing point, of the whole twentieth-century pressure of Art into new regions. It’s terrific! (17)
There’s so much to learn from Picasso’s reaction to being “perfect” at an early age (in school I call this “reaching for the A beyond the A”) and to Campbell’s articulate, admiration-tinged assessment.