What Makes an Artist? A Conversation with Simon and Simone Dinnerstein05/01/2012
Where in the newborn human body does the seed of artistry lie dormant? Is it swaddled in a nest of neurons? Encoded into our genetic software? Or maybe suspended in our ectoplasmic souls? Ask a panel of experts and you’ll get a different answer from each. To get closer to the truth, look instead to the unique circumstances of a family of artists. For example, the Dinnersteins.
Simon and Simone Dinnerstein — father and daughter — are both talented artists in their respective fields. Simon is a painter with a long career. (Perhaps his most revered piece, called The Fulbright Triptych, is the subject of The Suspension of Time, published by Milkweed in December of last year.) Excelling in a different artistic realm, Simone Dinnerstein is a world-renown concert pianist who has played Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the august stage of Carnegie Hall. Despite their bond of kinship, comparing Simon and Simone’s creative paths exposes more differences than similarities in discipline, outlook, and process.
One thing that they both believe, though, is that the cultivation of an artist goes hand-in-hand with individually tailored encouragement. In a recent conversation between father and daughter moderated by Robin Quivers (embedded below), Simon has some insightful, matter-of-fact words about the way that artistic inclinations can be starved:
Robin Quivers: Do you think artists are made or born?
Simon Dinnerstein: I think that you have it in your gene pool to develop as an artist, but a lot of people have weird families. Those families do their best to screw you up. There are people who I’ve met that could have been artists, but don’t have the belief system in it—they don’t believe in art, or they don’t believe that you can do it.
You need something to start with, and the rare thing is this giftedness. There are other manifestations, but you have to have a group of people around you who encourage that, or who say yes yes instead of no no—or say yes yes yes yes instead of no no no no no no no no. Sometimes it’s as simple as that: Seven yeses per day.
When you get out in the real world and you’re an artist, you’re going to take some knocks. People are going to come around with a hammer and hit you in the knee or the ankle, or maybe on the top of your head.
Being sensitive or being the artistic type isn’t enough. You need something else, some kind of resiliency or stubbornness or belief that “this” is going to work out. Because there are going to be things that don’t work out, and you have to be able to survive these things. You have to do it because you feel it’s in your blood to do it.
That particular excerpt comes at about 23 minutes into the video. The Dinnersteins also cover their personal histories, their outlook on artistic life, and the place of memory in the creation of something new. Artists, of course, should find the rest of the conversation interesting, but the wisdom of the two speakers will have just as great an effect on writers, craftsmen, and others with creative pursuits.
In other Dinnerstein news: We recently learned that the German Consulate in New York will continue to display The Fulbright Triptych, which will now hang there until April 2014.