/ Published November 6, 2013
The ability to create is a gift. The builders of Chartres, though anonymous and long dead, give us a gift every day when we behold that magnificent structure, awed and transfixed by its impossible beauty. The same is true with the gifts handed down to us by the likes of Velasquez and Rembrandt, by Faulkner and McCarthy, by Whitman and Heaney.
I design and illustrate books—constructing tiny cathedrals, if you will, of paper, letters, words and pictures. It is work I do in relative solitude. Most days the only company I have in the studio is my gently snoring mastiff and the music of Bach and Palestrina.
But in my head, in my imagination, I am never alone. It’s like Goya seeing himself in The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. His dream, his imagination is haunted. Mine is, too—though not so much by bats and owls and panthers as by images that he, Dürer, Grünewald, Kollwitz, Whistler and others made and left behind. Images that continue to teach me and give me succor.
All my life I have studied my antecedents: painters, architects, printmakers, sculptors, poets, novelists, designers, illustrators, filmmakers, photographers and printers. Through the work of my spiritual ancestors, those gone on ahead and those yet alive, I have learned how to see, to think, to hear, to write and to discipline myself and my work.
These are mighty gifts: gifts of purpose, example, craftsmanship and inspiration. Gifts handed down in an “artistic succession,” as it were. Gifts I call upon when I face difficult and perplexing visual problems or when I simply run out of ideas—for I often find the solution stashed away and almost forgotten in my library or my file cabinets.
Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything has antecedents. There is, as it says, nothing new under the sun. But for what remains in the light under the sun, I am eternally grateful.
Barry Moser is the Irwin and Pauline Alper Glass Professor of Art.