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Object #21 / Arnold Schönberg: Landscape

Oil on artist’s board
ca. 1907–9
Catalogue raisonné 144

Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades/CA

“Most esteemed Mr. Moll, I thank you again for the kind visit and for the very interesting discussion, which is still giving me much to think about. But when I look back on my own experiences of artistic struggles, you point me to a path opposite the correct one. A youthful work of mine, imperfect both in what was attempted and how it was achieved, is well received today, although it had previously failed. But with my other works, the more mature and artistic they are, the more perfectly they achieve what was at tempted, and the more highly their aim is valued, the less of an impression I make. And now I believe that after a time my works will always reveal to me only their imperfection, their comparative – measured by me – failure, since those works composed earlier will always be failures to me, while those recently composed will, for the time being, succeed. I could thus never come to publish anything I knew that after a while it would seem bad to me. Thus I think, provided that one has the feeling “Here I have expressed myself,” it is almost unimportant at what stage of technical maturity one goes before the public. If one thing only is clear to me: Have I expressed myself here? Have I said what I wanted to say? The “how” will be better as the “what” increases. But the main thing is the “what,” the “who.”
I am certain you are right if you measure my imperfect ability in the Nature Pieces at zero. I find all that very poor myself. But not, for instance, because I think it lacks originality, as you seem to believe. No, I find it poor on the whole in the same sense as you do; and I have always found it to be poor. Because I have never felt the familiar sense of satisfaction that I know from my musical works that says to me: it is good!
On the other hand, I have had this feeling with almost all the other paintings (the Fantasy Pieces) and therefore I must believe: this is something. At first glance, it must seem strange that I assume that someone who can do nothing is suddenly capable of doing something. However, I do not only consider this possible; it is in fact with me routinely the case. I have always been able to do only that which is suited to me – absolutely, immediately and almost without any transition or preparation. On the other hand, the things that others can do – that which passes for “education” – have always caused me difficulties. I have also learned those things. But only later. Only after I struggled through to a certain security in my natural domain did I also acquire the power to do what the others could. And more often than not, since it was earned and not merely learned, to do it far better than the others could. I can and could never learn as others do. Some things I could always do on my own without any guidance. When it came to other things, no teacher in the world could have taught me.
And so, although I know that in my own artistic field I would speak to a student in the same way as you do to me, I have decided in spite of everything to exhibit in the coming year. For I have to be in the thick of things; I learn from it. Once these things are away from me and hostile eyes look at them, they will also become something different for me. Then it will come more easily for me to develop beyond them. But also contributing to this decision in no small part is the intention to sell something. My life is so far from being a bed of moss-roses that I would also like to take this path for bringing my income to an appropriate level. And I hope to find people to whom my works will say something and who want to give something back for them. Thus please tell me if an exhibition at Miethke’s would be possible.
And if I may ask: as soon as possible. For I would now like to look into doing it at Heller’s if it’s not possible there.
Most respectfully yours,
Arnold Schönberg”

(Arnold Schönberg to Carl Moll, 16 June 1910)

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