Jenny Davidson has written something well worth pondering in a comment to my last post, which I’m shifting up here to bring to your attention:

But you know I believe something different than you do about competence. I really believe that the sustained application to the challenge of competence can lead in the end to a kind of grace (there’s a good conversation about this at the end of Rebecca West’s “The Fountain Overflows,” re: piano playing, which I am certain I have mentioned to you before!), and that this is what we all aspire to. I am more interested, as a reader and writer, in that kind of achievement than in the one that seems like magic…

I have no doubt that Jenny is right – and yet ….

And yet what if competence alone doesn’t satisfy you? I wonder if the drive to go beyond competence is exactly that which makes an artist, an artist: Satan waging his Eternal War (Paradise Lost has always seemed to me to be as much about art as theology). Perhaps what I’m looking for here is the difference between craft and art.

And do be sure to keep an eye out for Jenny’s forthcoming YA novel The Explosionist. It promises to be a very satisfying read.


3 thoughts on “The challenge of competence

  1. Lee 16 years ago

    Nick, I do like the idea of threatening to capsize,

    And of course I never thought competence in any way easy or unworthy!

  2. Jenny Davidson 16 years ago

    I find even competence as a novelist fairly hard-won! Thanks for the shout-out…

  3. Nick 16 years ago

    I think I’ve said somewhere on my blog that I believe all good art must sail close to the wind. That is, the artist (writer in this case) must always be pushing him/herself, always teetering on the brink of disaster, threatening to capsize. It’s not just about ‘trying as hard as you can’, more like ‘testing yourself as far as you dare.’ Of course, to sail close to the wind you still need to be a competent sailor first.