A few summers ago I heard that the historian David McCullough would be giving the commencement address at a fine-arts college in a small Connecticut town, and, finding myself in the area, I went around to listen. McCullough is my role model for his honorable conduct as a writer, and on this occasion, as always, his values were solid.
The graduating class only had 25 young men and women, and it would have been easy for McCullough to give a standard commencement talk, exhorting the young to go forth with high hopes and high ideals and love of country. Of course he didn’t. The code of honor says: Do it right. There’s no free lunch. He had written a talk specifically for those newborn artists–a talk generously furnished with helpful admonitions by great artists of the past. The one that I wrote down was by the American painter Robert Henri: “You should paint like a man coming over the top of the hill singing.”
Amen. That’s also how you should write, sing, dance, draw, sculpt, act, play an instrument, take a photograph, design a building, live a life.
- William Zinsser, The American Scholar