artist at work

Posted: September 4, 2020 in Arts, Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , ,

Most of us never see artists at work. Most of us never want to see artists at work. The process of visualizing, creating, refining, and polishing is the best left in the shadows. The multiple iterations required to arrive at a completed piece are neither appealing or interesting to most of us. The mental and emotional gyrations which spun and swirled in Van Gogh’s head and hand as he accelerated towards The Starry Night or Café Terrace at Night may fascinate, but they hardly make good viewing. Bach’s endless tinkering with notes and sounds while he composed the Brandenburg Concertos may appeal to the musicologist, but the rest of us are satisfied listening to the music. Nobody wants to see Meryl Streep stand in front of a mirror practicing gestures, accents, and tone while preparing for a role. The image of Anne Coates viewing reels of film in a cramped editing room, then manipulating them in search of the proper pacing for Lawrence of Arabia, is best left to film students. We just want to see the movie. The effort behind creating art is not as captivating as the result of that effort. Sometimes the artist isn’t thrilled with it either. As Dorothy Parker famously said, ““I hate writing. I love having written.”

artist at work

Tom Seaver was an exception. He was an artist who enjoyed creating while we watched, who improvised and modified his style and approach in real time and the unforgiving space of the public arena. Part of that was the nature of his art – the art of pitching. The larger part was what Seaver did with it. His canvas was the pitcher’s mound, his tools a baseball and a specific, studied sequence of physical movements, not unlike a dancer. Throwing a baseball is a unique activity and each pitch its own mini composition.

Yet it would be shortsighted to think of pitching as a series of unrelated actions, a disconnected cavalcade of baseballs thrown, caught, or hit. Pitching, particularly at the highest levels, is both tactical and strategic, singular and cumulative. It is a test of physical gifts, yes. But the pitch-by-pitch battle between a pitcher and batter is often one of subtlety and nuance. It is a contest of feint and deception, of maximizing applied knowledge to this very moment to achieve the desired result. When done properly it is profoundly satisfying to witness, like marveling at Baryshnikov or Pavlova.

Tom Seaver understood this as well as any pitcher in baseball history. Certainly, he was blessed with great physical gifts and his right arm was touched by something otherworldly. Talent can’t be faked, but it can be squandered. Seaver didn’t waste his. He worked hard and created a remarkable 20-year portfolio, one mini composition at a time. He also afforded us a rare gift. We watched the artist at work – and loved every performance.

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