Work for Love

Work for Love © Jim Korpi

Revelations often come gradually. A thought is validated by something one reads, and then the revelation becomes more grounded in reality.
Outside concern has been weighing on my conscience as far as the future and careers. Often this comes in the form of comments like, “You should market yourself more. You should do more freelance work for… You should make more portraits. You should use lights when you photograph. Editors like lights.” Maybe I should.
Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe photography in its employable form isn’t what I want out of it. I’m sure the great painters of the past were hired by the upper crust to make portraits of their poodles. But my hands, brains and efforts are capable of making the meeting of ends more rewarding than the forfeiture of love for a dollar.
Wendell Berry was answering a question by writer John Leax about “will” power involved in his work as a writer and what role it plays. This was part of an interview in the book Conversations with Wendell Berry and the beginning of a revelation.
“WB: Well, let me see if I can do better. I’m finding it hard to talk about the involvement of will in my work because I don’t understand it very well.
Once, I would have understood it better, but that was when I was young and determined to become a writer. For a while, then, I really was writing by will power, trying to learn how to write and to make a start. But I remember a moment – in 1965, or a little after – when I realized that I didn’t have to be a writer; there were other kinds of work also that required artistry and offered satisfaction. From here, looking back, I can see what a defining moment that was. I had, in effect, decided not to be a “professional” writer, but instead, in the literal sense, an amateur: I would work for love. I would be attempting a life, not a career.
After that, I knew I didn’t have to try to “think things up,” or try to force myself to get “ideas for writing.” Will power, as an initiating force, became less and less involved. I wrote what came to me. The will was in the workmanship. I wanted to make of what had come to me the best work of art I could. But that also involves fascination. For me, the issue of will in art is impossibly complicated by the fact of fascination. Have I done what I have done – in writing, but also in the fields and woods – because I willed to do it, or because I was irresistibly attracted to it and wanted to do it? I have done it, I think, for love.
That is true, anyhow, of the novels and stories and poems. The essays, I suppose, originate somewhat differently. Love and fascination certainly are involved, but also fear. I became an essayist in order to try to defend good and necessary things that are in danger. The the essays, the issue of will seems to me to become even more difficult and obscure.
Perhaps it takes a certain amount of will to hang on for a few decades in defense of losing (though, I believe, never lost) causes. On the other hand, maybe one enters these battles not because of will or choice, but rather because, loving the things one loves, one has no choice.
Implicit in virtually all of my essays is the impulse of agrarianism: the desire for an economy that would be careful of the land, just to human workers, neighborly, democratic, and kind to all the gifts, natural and divine, on which our life depends. To a a considerable extent, my argument was my father’s before it was mine; in it, I have been his ally, and I have as allies my brother, my wife, and my children.
So how does one figure in an advocacy that is a fascination, a privilege, and a nessessary result of one’s most essential affections? I don’t know.”

Posted June 2nd, 2009 in Uncategorized.


  1. Tim Gruber:

    Jim that was great. Thanks for sharing.

  2. peter hoffman:

    If it's not filling a hole in your soul it's worthless anyways man.
    Somehow I don't think money had much to do with making any of the folks like this happy … that is beyond having basic needs met at least.

  3. Anonymous:

    Jim thanks for posting that. My heart heard it.
    —Jamie Lynn

  4. PSA:

    Compromise is your friend. If painting a poodle supports the bigger picture then so be it.

  5. Jim Korpi:

    Compromise is your friend in marriage and in friendships. When it comes to pursuing the purity of your craft, compromise can make the difference between mediocre and perfection.
    I've done my share of poodles. It's now time to work towards something more significant.
    Jim Korpi

  6. SG:

    Jim, glad I came across you blog. I definitely dig what you are saying in this post. When I think about what it would likely mean to scrap together a living from freelance these days, it hardly resembles that activity that I've fallen in love with.
    I don't know if freelancing would crush it for me or not, but since getting time off from assisting Steve, I've felt like a little kid with a camera again. I don't even think of myself as a 'photographer', I'm just living how I want to live. Its fun, and for now, I don't even have to do any poodles.

    I watched an interview with Cormac McCarthy and Oprah recently (actually a pretty wretched Q and A) and CM commented on how from early on he was pretty rigidly against the idea of having a 'real job' and how he wanted to make a life out of writing. He lived in extreme poverty for most of his life, but he was always confident that he'd have his basic needs taken care of and he did. Not that that this is a recipe for brilliance, but the point is he was willing to sacrifice certain comforts and societal norms for the way that he wanted to live, and a lot of beauty came out of that.
    Good on you man. I think a lot of beauty has come out of your non-marketing/lighting/freelancing self. haha.

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