“As [Edgar Degas] relentlessly copied the nudes of the Old Masters and drew from live models, he developed a desire to be rigorous, but also rigorously original.”
-- Richard Friswell, in ARTES Magazine, December 21, 2011
I admire Degas and his desire to be “rigorous, but also rigorously original”, and it is precisely the desire I wish to instill in the students in my English classes. Degas obviously saw a curious and essential connection between being rigorous and being original, and I hope the students can eventually see it also. The artist gave his unreserved concentration to copying the Old Masters’ nudes over and over again, but the eventual result was a series of unprecedented paintings. He labored, you might say, like a perfectionist, but also like a pioneer. This seems to run contrary to the contention that meticulousness and inventiveness cannot cooperate – that you can’t be precise and ingenious at the same time – but Degas proved it is possible, and I hope the same for my students. I hope to show them that careful attention to precision and correctness can work well with a wildness of spirit and a willingness to test new trails in their writing. I want them to see the good sense in combining exactness with inspiration, mixing strictness with pizzazz and elegance. When I recently saw Degas’ elegant finished paintings at Boston's MFA exhibit, and realized they were the result of scrupulous devotion to detail, I couldn’t wait to work with my young writers to help them be both staunchly rigorous and bigheartedly original.
(audio version below)