I came across this quote in Leonard Koren’s What Artists Do. It’s excerpted from a longer quote by Chuck Close in the book, Inside The Studio: Two Decades of Talks with Artists in New York.
I found another interview with Close in which he phrased it just a bit differently:
Every time you come to a fork in the road, don’t think. Automatically take the harder route, and pretty soon you’re off on someplace of your own, and no one else’s rules apply.
After reading both quotes, my mind immediately went to Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled,” which, I realized, I’d never really read before, and knew little about.
First off, it is not called “The Road Less Traveled,” but “The Road Not Taken.” Here’s how it was originally published in 1915:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
When you actually read the poem, you realize it’s not about what most people think it’s about. In fact, critic David Orr wrote a whole book about how nearly everybody gets it wrong. Here’s an excerpt, titled, “The Most Misread Poem in America”:
Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.
Frost himself warned readers, “you have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.”
And get this:
Robert Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” as a joke for a friend, the poet Edward Thomas. When they went walking together, Thomas was chronically indecisive about which road they ought to take and—in retrospect—often lamented that they should, in fact, have taken the other one.
(Some of you who watch The Good Place, might now be thinking of Chidi, the chronically indecisive philosophy professor.)
So, going back to the Serra quote which originally captured my attention: what he and Close are talking about is how to set yourself apart from the pack and put yourself into unknown territory. (Essentially, pragmatic advice for market differentiation.) What Frost is getting at is something much murkier: No matter what path you take, you’ll tell some kind of story about it later, which may or may not be true.
See also: “The Hard Way.”