On Derby Day

May 3, 2008

He is quite adamant on the question of whether society owes the artist a living; he feels it does not.  He urges young artists to structure their finances in such a way that they do not have to rely on the sale of their art… Irwin does not subscribe to the sackcloth-and-ashes school of artistic romanticism; he sees no special virtue in staying in garrets.


During the mid- and late sixties, Irwin was supplementing his meager art income in part through his teaching, but that only for a few years at a time.  His principal source of income was playing the horses.

…”I think the race track was probably, in terms of discipline and learning, one of the most important activities I ever had,” he explained.  … “The thing about the race track is the incredibly wide range of information that has a bearing.  If you’re going to have a chance there, you have to achieve the discipline necessary for keeping track of all of it.  The one thing more than anything else is learning to pay attention.  Because every year it’s different; even during the period of a meet it will go through cycles or phases.  It’s real tough to put your finger on it, but the name of the game is to sense the upcoming tilt before anyone else does, to notice the particular combination that’s beginning to gel before anyone else notices it.  And to do that, you have to pay attention to everything.”

From Chapter 12, “Playing the Horses,” in Lawrence Weschler’s Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin, apparently to be rereleased in October 2008.  Still one of the best books on art I know.

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