Martha Graham’s inspiring words on creativity and individuality

Last month I read two books that serendipitously contained the same quotation, taken as inspiration by two very different creative artists.

The first instance was in Dance to the Piper, Agnes de Mille’s wonderful memoir of her early years of struggle as a dancer and choreographer, which includes portraits of several notable figures in the dance, film and theatre world of the early 20th century. De Mille ends her book with these words, that she says the choreographer Martha Graham spoke to her:

“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 decide 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.”

–Martha Graham, quoted in Dance to the Piper by Agnes de Mille

Later I read Sometimes You Have to Lie, the new biography of Louise Fitzhugh, who is famous as the author of the groundbreaking children’s novel Harriet the Spy — but whose first vocation was as a painter. And I was surprised and delighted to find that she carried these very same words in her wallet, as inspiration for her artistic striving.

Do these words inspire you too? What other quotations do you carry with you as a guide to life?

Martha Graham mit Bertram Ross in Visionary recital, aufgenommen von Carl van Vechten am 27. Juni 1961.

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4 thoughts on “Martha Graham’s inspiring words on creativity and individuality

  1. I have two quotations that inspire me:
    “I would rather read than write. To be honest I would rather hang upside down in a bucket than write.” –Douglas Adams
    “It ain’t what they call you. It’s what you answer to.” –W.C. Fields

  2. “Be kind.” I think this is the sentiment I’ve carried with me pretty much all of my life, whether consciously or unconsciously. No doubt the interweb thingy has this as a meme all over the place but I don’t think that makes it any less valid or worthy.

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