April 12, 2018

"The romantic image of a genius who is at best self-absorbed and at worst plainly monstrous in private life is familiar from countless biographies of painters (writers, composers, directors)."

"The annals of art are littered with abandoned women, neglected offspring, heartbreaks and betrayals. Yet Gauguin, after deserting his family, went on to paint his celebrated landscapes of Tahiti, and Picasso — who fathered four children by three women, juggled mistresses and wives, and helped drive two of them to suicide — forever changed the face of modern art. Morality and immortality, it must be acknowledged, do not necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, the opposite often seems to be true: To achieve real mastery, the artist must be obsessed with work, fiercely protective of his time, ruthlessly selfish in his dealings with those who would impose upon him — all the small, needy people who ask for crumbs of his soul yet ask in vain — for all of it, undivided, is laid on the altar of Art."

That's the first paragraph of a NYT review of a novel about a "great artist" character. I've enjoyed a lot of art about artists over the years, but somehow this seems like such an obsolete topic. Who today is interested in spending time with a character who's a big genius (so we're told) and is rotten to women and children? Well, I have my problems with fiction, so I won't try to answer my own question. For nonfiction dealing with this topic, I like Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals."

61 comments:

rhhardin said...

Look for a #MeToo victim crowd.

EDH said...

Morality and immortality, it must be acknowledged, do not necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, the opposite often seems to be true: To achieve real mastery, the artist must be obsessed with work, fiercely protective of his time, ruthlessly selfish in his dealings with those who would impose upon him — all the small, needy people who ask for crumbs of his soul yet ask in vain — for all of it, undivided, is laid on the altar of Art."

Or power?

Could be said of Paul Ryan's decision to retire from congress?

Sydney said...

I liked the comment at the Amazon link, “Who is the more punchable,Picasso? OrRousseau?"

CJ said...

The particular item you quoted from the NYT piece is correct. But as you say - there's no room in our culture for artists or great thinkers and scientists to be anything but well-rounded, with all the edges and protuberances sanded away.

I've said before: Nearly all human progress has been, in part, because some man has thrown his frustrated sexual energy into something else: operas, plays, paintings, inventing, discovering. As our culture has decayed, and masculinity/testosterone and its associated highs and lows are shunned with no healthy outlet, it seems that the frustrated sexual energy is being turned into violence.

Too much to discuss in a single comment - but in the past, when masculine traits such as intense, sole focus on a life's work were tolerated or celebrated in our culture, masculinity that wasn't sexual had a more socially beneficial outlet.

rhhardin said...

Picasso's relation to his models is covered in a very nice book

https://www.amazon.com/Artist-His-Model-Image-Gaze/dp/0226439836

by Karen L. Kleinfelder. A nice story and great pictures even if she gets wrong why an old guy suddenly loses interest in models at age 80. She thinks it's because he finally came to terms with his mortality, rather than a neuron simply stopped firing.

Caligula said...

What's good about commercial cultural products is, one can consume the product and ignore the nasty politics and/or behavior of its creator.

If you were to confine yourself to culture (not just visual arts, but books, movies, music, etc.) that was produced only by people you'd enjoy as friends you'd miss an awful lot of good stuff.

I thought everyone over the age of 13 understood this?

jwl said...

I read Paul Johnson's book a few years ago and it confirmed my belief that many left wing ideologues are deeply unpleasant people who live messy lives all the while believing they are superior human beings who society should listen to.

David Begley said...

Rationalizations and normalization by the failing NYT of all those creeps.

How about this: Trump has a terrible private life but he's a great president accomplishing things that the sainted Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama never did.

the 4chan Guy who reads Althouse said...

"The romantic image of a genius who is at best self-absorbed and at worst plainly monstrous in private life is familiar from countless biographies of painters (writers, composers, directors)."

I.e., the Harvey Weinstein Defense.

But it seems to me that, in attributing these aspects to artists, they are basically saying that real artists are men ("The annals of art are littered with abandoned women, neglected offspring, heartbreaks and betrayals...".)

From an Amazon review of a female painter chick:

"Most people associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New Mexico, painted cow skulls, and her flower paintings. She was revered for so long—born in 1887, died at age ninety-eight in 1986—that we forget how young, restless, passionate, searching, striking, even fearful she once was—a dazzling, mysterious female force in bohemian New York City during its heyday."

Passionate and searching: that's what artist chicks do.

I think they also fuck Communist dudes when given the chance.

I post my shit here.

Fernandistien said...

To achieve real mastery, the artist must be obsessed with work, fiercely protective of his time, ruthlessly selfish in his dealings with those who would impose upon him ...

All that for some stupid painting.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Most people associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New Mexico, painted cow skulls, and her flower paintings.

Wait...those were supposed to be flowers? I mistook them for...well...never mind.

Caroline Walker said...

That this has been true throughout the ages and across cultures is obvious.
Also, what Byron said: Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,. 'Tis woman's whole existence...

Michael K said...

This degenerate culture no longer celebrates men.

It prefers pajama boys and camera Hoggs.

Ann Althouse said...

"This degenerate culture no longer celebrates men."

In the 1970s a sort of brutal independent man was celebrated and being awful to women was maybe deplorable, but maybe also what the woman deserved for being so mediocre/bitchy. That went out of style. And if you think the only alternative is pajama boy, we are screwed. If you people really read Jordan Peterson's book, you wouldn't think the alternative is pajama boy.

mccullough said...

Stanley Kowalski or Pajama Boy?

CJ said...

"If you people really read Jordan Peterson's book, you wouldn't think the alternative is pajama boy."

I've read it - he thinks more traditional masculinity is the answer; as in the yin and yang, order and chaos, masculine and feminine, must exist together.

I happen to agree with him. The hatred piled on him by the Left seems to tell you what they - the guardians of our culture! - think of his theory.

mezzrow said...

I read Paul Johnson's book a few years ago and it confirmed my belief that many left wing ideologues are deeply unpleasant people who live messy lives all the while believing they are superior human beings who society should listen to.

Absolutely my conclusion as well, right down to the dangling preposition. Yeah, I'm a bad person, but read the Paul Johnson book if you get a chance. If you knew these people in real life, you wouldn't be nearly so respectful or impressed.

Chris N said...

Maybe if we take brain scans, pathologizing such behavior, it will be for the good.

Sit them in effigy on Oprah’s big armchair: He lost his father. His mother didn’t love him.

How about we say such people are oppressed, and crudely politicize the matter?

Let’s churn out thousands of teaching hours and scholarship documenting every correspondence? Maybe we’ll imbibe some of their genius.

Let’s let the current market and the humanities departments take care of it. ‘Picasso’s Sister’

History will be made clear, sufficient meaning and collective catharsis will be achieved.

Kassaar said...

Intellectuals, a great book indeed. A collection of famous but awful people who didn’t practice what they preached. Hypocrites or worse. Funniest thing I remember is that Marx never spoke to a “worker” in his life. Engels was his source of information on the species.

rcocean said...

We not only don't have any "bad boy" artists, we have no artists at all.

As far as I can tell.

Who's the last great novelist, painter, or dramatist, that anyone truly cared about?

I'm mean we're still talking about Hemingway, Bob Dylan and Picasso.

rcocean said...

The Counter-culture could rebel but it couldn't create.

Robert Cook said...

"Who's the last great novelist, painter, or dramatist, that anyone truly cared about?

"I'm mean we're still talking about Hemingway, Bob Dylan and Picasso."


This doesn't mean there are no more great artists. It just means that, as a society, we've stopped caring about art.

Instead, we worship at the alter of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, the Real (sic) Housewives, the Jersey Shore mooks, etc.

tcrosse said...

Instead, we worship at the alter of Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, the Real (sic) Housewives, the Jersey Shore mooks, etc.

That's what the Media (which is held in fewer and fewer hands) chooses to feed us.

Bill Peschel said...

It's certainly possible to admire a work and not its creator. Hemingway was, by all accounts, a nasty person, but he was a beautiful writer and I still appreciate the truths he expressed, but couldn't live up to, in his works.

That's a far cry from the New York intellectuals who defended Stalin, communism, and socialism. Nasty people with nasty thoughts.

Robert Cook said...

"That's what the Media (which is held in fewer and fewer hands) chooses to feed us."

Because that's what we eat: junk food.

Roughcoat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exiledonmainstreet said...

Bill Peschel said...

"It's certainly possible to admire a work and not its creator."

While that is true, I suspect many of the people who have told me that over the years would draw the line if an artist they admired came out as a conservative or (Heaven forbid!) a Trump supporter. Philandering, Stalinist sympathies, wife beating - we can make allowances for that, but some things are just unforgivable.

tcrosse said...

Because that's what we eat: junk food.

Do we clamour for junk food, or are we force-fed junk food ? Or do we eat it because that's all there is ?

Anonymous said...

Bernard Shaw covered that topic in The Doctor's Dilemma, more than a century ago, I believe.

James K said...

There was also "Amadeus," which ironically was wildly inaccurate about Mozart (he wasn't such a jackass), and which I found a bit sophomoric. And Nietzsche had a famous falling out with Wagner, though maybe not solely because of his disgust with Wagner as a person.

YeeHaw! said...

I think we clamor for junk food, rather than eat it because we have to.

There is a lot of great stuff out there, if you look for it.

As an example: Two Step (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3288948/) -- great little noir film (although I am biased -- I know the Director/Writer and part of it was filmed in the neighborhood). Watch it and tell me that it isn't better than 80% of the crud that Hollywood passed off as worth your time last year. Also, one that you can watch with clean conscience -- No Weinstein association with this film.

And there is a lot of good art out there. You just have to look for it, and have enough sense to walk away from the crud, no matter how nicely it is dressed up. I went to a Rothko exhibit in Houston, mostly because my Aunt was a docent, and I can safely say Rothko has nothing to say to me. But there are a lot of artists doing what they do, and doing it well, that deserve your time to seek them out.

So there is no reason to ever look at a Kardashian again.

buwaya said...

"Who's the last great novelist, painter, or dramatist, that anyone truly cared about?"

Gene Wolfe
Tom Wolfe

Both are alive, maybe they should form a pack.

Teller said...

If only Columbus had penned a poem or two.

Robert Cook said...

"Do we clamour for junk food, or are we force-fed junk food ? Or do we eat it because that's all there is?"

I think we clamor for it.

Biff said...

There's a Trump/"Art of the Deal" joke in here, somewhere.

Luke Lea said...

Ann writes, "Well, I have my problems with fiction . . ."

Let's hear more about that.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Paul Johnson's Intellectuals"

Ha! Just yesterday I was pondering whether or not that book should move from a less used room to the living room.

YeeHaw! said...

Biff,

Trump is exactly the type of enfant terrible so beloved of progressives when being terrible towards the sacred cows of stodgy right wingers, somewhat less beloved when being terrible towards sacred cows of stodgy left wingers.

Everyone loved Trump for decades, indeed right up until the night he got the nod at the GOP convention.

Or perhaps even later -- right up until he started looking like a true competitor to Hillary!

YeeHaw! said...

So Robert Cook, our New York City correspondent...

What is looking promising, art and culture wise, in New York? Are you seeing anything to keep an eye on?

Sebastian said...

Picasso's work is just as monstrous as his character. Many people like it for that reason.

The "countless biographies" also show that many women love the bad boys. I got me a genius: the real #MeToo.

William said...

Van Gogh was said to be a nice person, if you got past the schizo stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if there are other great artists who were sympathetic human beings, but further research needs to be done.

Robert Cook said...

"Everyone loved Trump for decades, indeed right up until the night he got the nod at the GOP convention."

Really? You think so? Here in NYC there are plenty of people who have always seen him as a sleazebag asshole. (There are certainly people here who liked him, as well, just as many liked that miserable jerk Rudy Giuliani. I think they each do express a New York brashness that resonates, as one would espect, with New Yorkers.)

exiledonmainstreet said...

Robert Cook said...

"Do we clamour for junk food, or are we force-fed junk food ? Or do we eat it because that's all there is?"

I think we clamor for it.

4/12/18, 12:31 PM

And could that possibly be because there are many people out there who are credentialed but not educated? People who think that "liberal arts" consists of grievance studies and were never exposed to the ideas of all those passe dead white men in college, with the exception of Karl Marx? At least popular culture junk is honest junk with no claims to profundity.

It's rather sad to read what some 19th century idealists assumed mass culture would be like once higher education became attainable to the masses. They imagined that everyone would be reading Shakespeare's sonnets and going to the opera on Saturday nights.

bagoh20 said...

I wonder what would happen if people refused to pay for art produced by such people. Then we would find out just how dedicated they are to their craft. The rest of us also produce things of value, some have rare talents, but in most careers being an asshole will ruin your success despite your ability.

Artist, like most of us, simply do what they can get away with, and if you reward them despite being assholes, you get asshole artists. I don't know if artists are more prone to assholeism than the rest of us, but society has done it's best to let them wallow in it, so is it really them or us.

Robert Cook said...

"Van Gogh was said to be a nice person, if you got past the schizo stuff."

I don't know. In 1997, Jeanne Calment, a very old French woman, died at 122 years old. She was an adolescent when Van Gogh was alive and claimed that she worked in the art store where he bought his canvases. She remembered him as "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick -- I forgive him, they called him loco."

Daniel Jackson said...

The fact is that to master a craft, be it music, writing, painting, photography, or "science" stuff, you have to go at it with passion. One is always refining one's craft. It is not easy stuff. It is, probably, not conducive for "married life" if by that it is meant complete attention devoted to spouse and offspring. It's a problem.

It used to be, in the post WWII home, that there was room for one intensive character per couple--one engaged in deep meditative reflection with long hours at the "office." That was usually considered to be the male in the couple since it was expected the male would bring in money and the female would rear children, manage the household, and watch the male's back.

Those days are gone. They probably were never really there in the first place.

Georgia O’Keeffe was married to Al Stieglitz, older and monied, a classic hypergamic marriage: they spent most of their married life apart--she in New Mexico, he in New York. Very talented people but I could live like that.

But, as anyone who has withstood a modern university professional education, this ain't no nine to five job, forty hours a week. Success is a hard mistress and everyone else plays second fiddle.

exiledonmainstreet said...

bagoh20:
"I don't know if artists are more prone to assholeism than the rest of us, but society has done it's best to let them wallow in it, so is it really them or us."

I think it's a product of the Romantic Era. The whole idea that artists are temperamental geniuses not bound by the rules the rest of us have to live by dates from the early 19th century. Certainly, there were temperamental artists prior to that time, but they were not routinely indulged. When artists had to please royal patrons who regarded them as nothing more than higher level servants, bad behavior and scandals were not tolerated. Bach and Rubens and Rembrandt would have been puzzled by the idea that artists have license to act like jerks.

Robert Cook said...

There are plenty of assholes in the upper echelons of every field, and among the rich. It's not just artists. Steve Jobs, like Picasso, was an asshole.

tcrosse said...

There are plenty of assholes in the upper echelons of every field, and among the rich.

No shortage of them in the lower echelons or among the non-rich, for that matter. They just don't stand out as much.

rcocean said...

"By their fruits, ye shall know them."

How many people who've created great, positive Art, have been total shits?

Not many. Hemingway wasn't a "nice guy" in many ways, but just because you're a drunk or a egomaniac doesn't make you a creep. Fitzgerald, O'Neill and Faulkner were drunks. Saul Bellow Upton Sinclair weren't - and lived to be 90.

I'd rather read Fitzgerald and Faulkner.

rcocean said...

When it comes to painting or music there's no relationship between the person and the song/painting.

Its either beautiful to see or listen to or it isn't. But a Nazi or a Communist can paint a good picture or write a nice symphony.

But when it comes to drama/novels/poems its different. The real person can't hide.

Robert Cook said...

"But when it comes to drama/novels/poems its different. The real person can't hide."

1. Writers are paid liars, so you can't know that.
2. Writers who are assholes in their lives can write beautiful novels, and that may be a genuine part of who they are...the part they put on paper.
3. Writers who seem to be assholes from the work they write may be warm, wonderful people in life.
4. I've heard it said--by writers--that writers as a group tend to be irritable, touchy, overly sensitive, and prone to depression, alcoholism, and other emotional problems. So, we should probably guess, unless affirmed otherwise, that most writers are probably at the least prickly and temperamental, however well they may hide it in public, (assuming they bother to try to hide it).

tcrosse said...

Writers who are assholes in their lives can write beautiful novels, and that may be a genuine part of who they are...the part they put on paper.

Dickens, Tolstoy, and Balzac did not lead exemplary personal lives, at least by today's standards.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, what about Bach?

John Lynch said...

What RC said, and I'd add that the necessity of setting aside large amounts of time to be alone and work tends to make writers into something equivalent to a selfish asshole.

rcocean said...

No an "asshole" writer can't hide. If he's any good.

Of course, 95% of all writers are crap or will be forgotten in 20 years.

Who will remember ‎E.L. Doctorow, in 2038? Who remembers him now?

John Lynch said...

If you are writing to be remembered, you are doing it wrong. If you want to be remembered there are better ways.

Anonymous said...

I have zero problem with enjoying the work of a monster, as long as he (or she) is dead. Me not listening to Wagner isn't going to hurt Wagner or help the Jews.

If the moster's still alive, however, I have some qualms about giving her (or him) my money, or, more indirectly, encouraging the monster to continue being monstrous.

Blue@9 said...

Wallace Stevens is regarded as a titan in the poetry world and the guy worked as insurance exec his whole life.

Robert Cook said...

"No an 'asshole' writer can't hide. If he's any good."

How do you know this? What do you mean by "if he's any good?"

Freeman Hunt said...

There are plenty of normal to nice people who have been great artists; one just doesn't hear about them being normal or nice as much as they hear about the jerkishness of other artists. Negative news sells. Bad tempers are sprinkled about all fields and classes.