Cervantes’ humorous story of Don Quixote follows a country gentleman in his fifties as he sets off on an imaginary quest. The initial exploits are met with amused tolerance by the townsfolk, supporting the aging Quixote’s belief that he's a knight-errant on grand chivalrous quests. Despite farcical setbacks, each “success” magnifies the validity of Quixote’s reality. But toward the end of Part Two, attitudes change. Quixote becomes the butt of mean-spirited jokes. Well-meaning friends convince Quixote that his quest is delusion, the product of age and insanity. The story ends with the loss of Quixote’s faith. He accepts reality imposed by others, but is gripped with a deep and persistent melancholy. When Alsono Quixano dies, he's sane in the eyes of the world but inwardly a broken man.
It's a story that has entertained generations and is deep in our collective psyche. There’s something both humorous and pathetic in the idea of the last “hurrah,” the aging character setting out on a grand adventure after a lost dream. We laugh at his interpretations of reality, we pity his disillusionment, and secretly fear we might be Quixote and not know it.
For me, the idea creeps in when I least expect it. I can feel successful within my own studio, caught up in the pleasure of creation. But I also exist in an interdependent relationship with the people and events surrounding me, which can affect me deeply. Success is just as stressful as rejection: both could be signs of my own delusion, succeeding out of pity, rejection from reality.
Is this the Quixote Effect? I don’t know. Maybe other people are better at rational thinking than I am. All I know is I can't allow myself to doubt the validity of my quest. Short of writing a manifesto, I decided to go into my studio and prove something to myself.
"Self Portrait at Age 61" @ Sue Favinger Smith, 2009