“Never ask people, not about your work.” Howard Roark
Last night I watched one of my favorite movies; The Fountainhead. Gary Cooper stars as architect Howard Roark, a stubborn and uncompromising individualist. His designs are uniquely his, rejecting tradition and the opinions of the experts. Because of these attitudes, he is a threat to those who require subservience.
As I seek to create, to find my own vision, Howard Roark has the ideals and standards that I admire; strong, confident, independent, and uniquely creative.
The title of this blog is “Never ask people, not about your work” and is a quote from The Fountainhead. Roark had attended college with a fellow architect who’s idea of success was to gain the approval and admiration of others. He came to Howard to ask him what he thought of his work:
“If you want my advice, Peter,” he said at last, “you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me, by asking anyone. Never ask people, not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
Roark’s designs were not based on what the public wanted, and he didn’t judge his success by how others reacted to it. He had a vision and it was unimportant what others thought. In another scene Roark declares:
“I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.
The exact opposite of Howard Roarke is Ellsworth M. Tooey, an architectural critic who depends on the opinions of others for his power. He fears individualistic thinking because he knows that such men cannot be controlled. Here is Tooey’s thoughts on art:
“Artistic value is achieved collectively by each man subordinating himself to the standards of the majority.”
Because Tooey fears Roark’s individualism and refusal to subordinate himself to Tooey, he attempts to destroy him by ensuring that no one will commission him to design a building. After having successfully accomplishing this, Tooey has a chance encounter with Roark and wants to hear Roark acknowledge him:
“We’re alone. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me?”
“But I don’t think of you”
Tooey is devastated, for his self worth is measured externally by how others view him. Roark gave him the worse blow he could have received, he didn’t hate or admire Tooey, he didn’t think of him at all.
Roark is ultimately confident and is not constrained by others, he knows that he can do anything that he wants. In this exchange, Roark’s is being expelled from college for not conforming to his professor’s views on architectural design. The College Dean tells Roark that no one will allow him to design such work:
“My dear fellow, who will let you [design such work]?”
“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”
This is how I wish to live my art; Independently, strongly, passionately and confidently. My only measure of success shall be against my own internal standards. I simply seek to develop my talent and to express myself through my art.
To be able to do that, and to be true to myself, is success.