Art is the secret told and hidden at the same time

From Thornton Wilder’s lecture, “On Reading the Great Letter Writers” (May 3, 1928):

Art is confession; art is the secret told. Art itself is a letter written to an ideal mind, to a dreamed-of audience. . . . But art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time. And the secret is nothing more than the whole drama of the inner life, the alternations between one’s hope of self-improvement and one’s self-reproach at one’s failures. “Out of our quarrels with other people we make rhetoric,” said William Butler Yeats; “out of our quarrels with ourselves we make literature.” Self-reproach is the first and the continuing state of the soul. And it is the way we go about assuaging that reproach that makes us do anything valuable.


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