Artist have different ways of arriving at their life’s purpose. Some, like Van Gogh, illuminate it with a slow-burning fire. Others awaken to it with the jolt of an epiphany in a single moment: Virginia Woolf found hers in the garden, James Baldwin in a puddle, Patti Smith at the park pond, and Pablo Neruda by reaching his hand through the fence.
For the pioneering sculptor Anne Truitt (March 16, 1921–December 23, 2004), the revelation arrived one November day in 1961, midway through her fortieth year, when she was visiting New York with a friend for a weekend of art.
In Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (public library) — the trove of insight that gave us Truitt on compassion, the parallels between being an artist and being a parent, and the vital difference between doing art and being an artist — she recounts a formative epiphany she had at the Guggenheim Museum:
When we rounded into the lowest semi-circular gallery, I saw my first Barnett Newman, a universe of blue paint by which I was immediately ravished. My whole self lifted into it. “Enough” was my radiant feeling — for once in my life enough space, enough color. It seemed to me that I had never before been free. Even running in a field had not given me the same airy beautitude. I would not have believed it possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. Such openness wiped out with one swoop all my puny ideas. I staggered out into the street, intoxicated with freedom, lifted into a realm I had not dreamed could be caught into existence. I was completely taken…