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Description: Yield: The Journal of an Artist
PublisherYale University Press
Alexandra Truitt
Description: Page from Anne Truitt's notebook by Truitt, Anne
A page from Anne Truitt’s notebook, January 28, 2001
In the spring of 1974, after retrospective exhibitions of her sculpture and drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Anne Truitt committed herself to keeping a journal for a year. She would continue the practice, sometimes intermittently, over the next six years, writing in spiral-bound notebooks and setting herself no guidelines other than to “let the artist speak.” These notebooks, written from summer 1974 to summer 1980, were compiled and published in 1982 as Daybook: The Journal of an Artist. Two other volumes followed: Turn, in 1986, which drew from journals kept from summer 1982 to winter 1984, and Prospect, in 1996, based on journals from spring 1991 to spring 1992.
This book—the final volume of Truitt’s journals—collects entries she wrote from the winter of 2001 to the spring of 2002, two years before her death.
For her first three books, Truitt’s editorial process was to record herself reading the handwritten journals aloud, often revising as she spoke. These recordings would then be professionally transcribed, resulting in preliminary manuscripts that she would continue to polish while working closely with Nan Graham, her editor at Scribner.
No transcription of the material that would become Yield was undertaken during her lifetime. When I visited my mother during her autumn 2001 residency at Yaddo, the artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, she mentioned that she had started to record some of her recent writing but decided to devote her time and energy to the studio instead. For the remainder of her time there, and until her death in December 2004, she would focus on her Pith paintings, her sculptures, and two new series of works on paper. She continued writing in her journal until April 2002, but, in deciding to set aside the task of recording, transcribing, and editing this material, she very likely understood that it would not be published during her lifetime.
The decision to initiate a transcription of the 2001–2 notebooks was made while I was researching and compiling Truitt’s unpublished texts (correspondence, talks, interviews, lectures, artist statements) with the goal of preparing a volume of selected writings. During this process, it became clear to me that these notebooks were similar in style and tone to the three published journals. Indeed, in the autumn of 2004, my mother told me she had written a “fourth book.” During my initial reading of the notebooks, I was encouraged to find the following three entries in which she clarifies her evolving intentions: “This writing I am doing might actually become another book. If so, good. If not, good” (February 17, 2001); “If a book, the title is YIELD” (April 7, 2001); “This writing is Yield: A Working Journal. Limited. Continuing. Will turn into a manuscript but not publish unless my working life comes to an end” (February 11, 2002).
While transcribing these journal entries, which are heavily annotated and occasionally difficult to decipher, I kept in mind the discussions I’d had with my mother about her writing over the years, and I visited the Anne Truitt Papers at Bryn Mawr, where I familiarized myself with her early drafts of Daybook, Turn, and Prospect. I also made use of the partial recording she made at Yaddo in 2001, which, while not definitive or comprehensive, was often illuminating. What few editorial interventions were made to what would become the manuscript for this book were carefully considered. Several passages were shortened to avoid repetition or were eliminated because they required context that only Truitt could have provided. A few entries about our family were also left out. As meaningful as these passages may be to myself and other members of the Truitt family, they would have been of little significance to general readers. And even without these more familial entries, the importance of her family life, including her affection for all her children and grandchildren, remains abundantly clear.
Readers who are familiar with the first three journals will find in Yield the same deft and lucent prose that made those earlier books so affecting; they may also notice that parts of Yield have a somewhat fragmentary feel in comparison to those earlier publications. Truitt’s decision to think of this volume as “a working journal,” in this way differentiating it from her previous journals, I think speaks to this difference.
In all of her books, Truitt recounts not only her life as an artist but also her placement in the world, literally and metaphorically. Daybook opens with a description of flying over a desert in Arizona; Turn begins at a cottage on Bethany Beach in Delaware; and the preface of Prospect recounts Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition across the Southern Ocean in 1916. In Yield, however, Truitt proceeds from a place of interiority. She observes, “The validity of the world we find ourselves living in has its origin in the uniformity of our nervous and sensory systems, not in its intrinsic objectivity.”
The text explores territory familiar to readers of her other books. Truitt writes openly about her studio practice, her family, and a cadre of old friends: the anthropologist and artist Tobias Schneebaum; Cord Meyer, whom she met not in his capacity as a CIA official but as the husband of her fellow artist Mary Pinchot Meyer; Cicely Angleton, whom she also met through Mary Meyer, and whose husband was James Jesus Angleton, chief of counterintelligence for the CIA from the late 1950s to early 1970s; and Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. She shares her personal experiences of Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Martin Puryear, David Smith, and other artists, as well as thoughts on Donald Judd, Jackson Pollock, Marcel Proust, Sun Tzu, Napoleon, Lafcadio Hearn, Japan’s Living National Treasures, the environment, genetics, gender and equality, Bob Kerrey, 9/11, the George W. Bush presidency, and America’s changing place in the world.
In Yield, with the same unflinching and characteristic honesty of the other volumes, Truitt articulates and comes to terms with the intellectual, practical, emotional, moral, and spiritual issues that an artist faces when reconciling her art with her life, even as that life approaches its end. Truitt illuminates for us a life and career in which the demands, responsibilities, and rewards of family, friends, motherhood, and grandmotherhood are ultimately accepted, together with those of a working artist.