We should not stamp our work as “failure”


To Bertha from C.C. Ballou – June 1, 1920

War Department

Fort Logan, Colorado
June 1, 1920

My dear Specks,

Your letter received. Excuse me for taking issue with your conclusions drawn from my letter. While I expressed the opinion that you would find copying the Sargent portrait very difficult, I don’t think I expressed the opinion that it would be “unsatisfactory.” Also, I fear that you are becoming a bit too dissatisfied, or difficult to satisfy, with regard to your own work. Of course, the mere words, “satisfactory,” or “unsatisfactory,” do not express deeply defined lives; but you should, I think, avoid running toward pessimism, and as is expressed in your statement that you are “foredoomed to failure” in copying this portrait, as your apparently think you were with the Benson. “It wasn’t Benson.” Surely not. It couldn’t be; yet it is not necessarily “unsatisfactory” because the impossible was not achieved. It was your first “copy,” and it seems to me that the commendation it elicited should stamp the effort as very satisfactory, all things considered. A too complete satisfaction, I am fully aware, may result in some such _____ content as makes an A.J. Smith, and renders progress impossible. I don’t believe in that, but I think that so long as there is progress, progress that makes one’s work stack up well with that of one’s fellows. We should not stamp our work as “failure,” or even as “unsatisfactory.” And we should avoid getting that that way of thinking and feeling. It cultivates discontent.

Bertha paints

You’re receiving the first award in your first attempt at “still life” must certainly be regarded as eminently satisfactory, regardless of the fact that your work probably does not equal the works of Chardin. (I am not sure if I have that name right.) Of course you think I am too partial, and I know I am incompetent as a judge of your work. Nevertheless, I believe I am capable of a general estimate, based less on my judgement as to the merits of what I see, than on a general survey of the views of others. And, while I have not made any very great success in life, as regards worldly achievements, I have at least learned that a sense of disappointment or even of failure, is not necessarily fatal to progress or to happiness.

Have you yet made any inquiry as to cost of living in Boston? We might be able to fix things up so you could go there this coming year. I didn’t ask Madame Breger to look up all those matters. She did it on her own book. I merely asked what the expense were at the best of the Paris schools, meaning the tuition. I suppose she misunderstood me.

The news from the dag, or from Denver.

Love to Mamma and Sally.

Your loving old dad.

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country”
I have been very much interested in your letters to Papa

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CC Ballou

Bertha's father was a major general who fought in the Spanish-American War as well as in the Philippines. He later commanded the 92d Division - a black unit - during World War I.