Apr
27

Martha Graham’s Divine Dissatisfaction

By

Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham’s (1894-1991) famous quote has always resonated with me, especially  when she said I don’t even have to believe in myself or my work, only to allow it to be and come forth.

After reading the context of her words, I am even more moved. I have felt the divine dissatisfaction both Martha Graham and her protegé Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) spoke of, and it now feels a divine gift, rather than a flaw to be gotten rid of. It speaks to my artist’s soul, and frees it.

In case it resonates with others, here it is, from Agnes de Mille’s 1950 autobiography, Dance to the Piper, in context. It starts with Agnes de Mille’s words.

“The work wasn’t good enough. All changed, all passed. There was no way of ensuring lasting beauty. Verily, I wrote in water and judging my work with a dreadful dispassionate vision, perhaps it was as well. I spoke to Martha Graham on the pavement outside of Schrafft’s restaurant. She bowed her head and looked burningly into my face. She spoke from a life’s effort. I went home and wrote down what she said:

‘There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open….’

‘But,’ I said, ‘when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.’

‘No artist is pleased.’

‘But then there is no satisfaction?’

‘No satisfaction whatever at any time,’ she cried passionately. ‘There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.'”

I think when I first read those words many years ago, I thought, what an awful way to live, I never want to be that way…I want to be happy with my life.

But as I live more, I keep finding life is not, at its root, either/or, but closer to both/and. The divine dissatisfaction that Martha speaks of is what I feel at the root of creation…because it is so clear, feeling the divine perfection coming through and then seeing how imperfect it is as I seek to bring it into form.

And yet there is also a feel of perfection in its imperfection, so that those words no longer hold the same meaning as before. It is Martha Graham’s queer divine dissatisfaction as it rests in the arms of the unchanging. There is such joy and aliveness in it, this feeling at the source of creation. It is the beat of the universe, in its unendingly changing form.

Let’s dare to be sacred fools, dancing with life and allowing its vitality to be translated through us into action. In and through our own queer divine dissatisfaction, let’s allow our own unique expression to find its life in this world, for the sake of all.

Categories : A Sacred Fool

Comments

  1. Love Lyrics says:

    Thanks for sharing, I found this story, while surfing for free downloads and ran across this site, thoughtful comments and great points made.

  2. Lisa Kewley says:

    On a morning talk show programme, the host used this term, divine dissatisfaction to describe the sentiments of a protagonist in a book. I was curious.

    I teach, but I also love to participate in artistic creations. I can agree with the words of Martha Graham.

    Lisa, Trinida and Tobago, West Indies

  3. Sandie Hum says:

    Thanks for your reflection, glad you found us! Sorry for the delay in my reply, but I had to learn how. Blogs are a whole new world for me :).

  4. It’s a good blog…

    I will make sure and bookmark this page and be back to follow you more….

  5. Jake Long says:

    Extremely great quote. I think that we can find happiness in striving to do great as long as we don’t base our happiness solely on the obvious results of what we’ve done. Happiness can be achieved by realizing that chasing after our passions will be a life long journey. When we find that we have stopped chasing them, that’s when the happiness goes away.

  6. […] And I found this, it’s an excerpt from  Agnes de Mille’s 1950 autobiography, Dance to the Piper. She’s relating a conversation with dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. It starts with Agnes de Mille’s words: The work wasn’t good enough. All changed, all passed. There was no way of ensuring lasting beauty. Verily, I wrote in water and judging my work with a dreadful dispassionate vision, perhaps it was as well. I spoke to Martha Graham on the pavement outside of Schrafft’s restaurant. She bowed her head and looked burningly into my face. She spoke from a life’s effort. I went home and wrote down what she said: […]