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Sylvia Plath's Drawings and the Power of Diversions
As every young woman with literary ambitions and a moody bent well knows, Sylvia Plath was best known for novel The Bell Jar and her poetry, full of shivery, dark lines like, “Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well.” But she was also a visual artist, taken to sketching while traveling and illustrating her own letters, diaries, and poems. A new exhibit in London will display her drawings (some of which can be viewed here at the Guardian). As Plath once said, "I have a visual imagination. For instance, my inspiration is painting and not music when I go to some other art form. I see these things very clearly.”
The drawings are very much
sketchbook pieces, unselfconscious, not overly polished—inky little notes. It
doesn’t seem like Plath was trying to make The Great Work of Art in the way she
was certainly trying to make Great Literature. Which is exactly what's so great about them.
I hesitate to use the word “hobby,” which has to it a condescending air, smacking of macramé. Perhaps we should dub them On-the-Side-Diversions (which sounds like what Don Draper would call a secretary, but you get my gist). They are the things you do for fun, without any pressure of a deadline, without any serious thought of the end result. I love the idea that even an accomplished and brilliant poet like Plath had something on the side that she did simply because she wanted to.
There’s something wonderful about being an amateur. I know a
great novelist who is a photography geek on the side; a biologist
sailboats; a painter who takes dulcimer lessons. All of these people are
satisfied with their professions, at which they work very hard – but
their hobbies. Er, diversions. And in turn, the diversions feed into the
other work, helping to nurture larger creative works, from novels to
science experiments. I'm a writer by trade, but I love to paint. Not
very well, but that's besides the point. Also, having fun can be good for your health.
It occurs to me that, as much as I love Facebook (don’t we all?), these social media are encroaching on the realm of the hobby. Crafting the Facebook photo album that makes your latest party look like a dreamlife feels creative, after all, and plunking down in front of a glowing screen just feels so easy when you're tired. But it would be a shame (as the multifaceted Plath knew) to lose the art of the Diversion: those imperfect sketches, attic train sets, yes, even the macramé.
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