Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Artists and desire

"I've worked with a lot of artists, Em, and they all have a need that cannot be met by another human being."
In Madeleine L'Engle's novel Certain Women, which I am reading this summer (and can't recommend as one of her best!), the younger actress Emma is onboard the old and famous actor David Wheaton's big yacht, somewhere among the islands on the Pacific Northwest coast (near Vancouver, I think). David is her father, and he is very ill, probably dying. Together with friends and relatives, they talk about his life -- and his many wives...


Surly Terrier said...

I'm not sure about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the quote, but in general I find these clichés about "artists" somewhat suspect. Are they generally different from the rest of humanity? Does one find more sensitivity, more introspection, more "desire for something no human can provide" among "artists" than in the population at large? I sometimes wonder if it is not simply a commonplace to think of "artists" this way, but I wonder how real such idealized thoughts are.

MaLj said...

The context of the quote is not -- as it seems when presented as a nice quotation from a not-so-exciting book -- to say something profound about "artists", but to explain why so many actors have affairs!!

Skeptical as a I am of using big words and about idealizing and treating some kinds of people as "special", I think I can agree with your view.

Surly Terrier said...

Ah, well...why actors have so many affairs...hmmm...actually, again, I don't think they're much different from other people in that regard. (Is my cynicism showing?) If you want my opinion, I think most humans play different parts all the time...for instance, I'm really a very shy and retiring person, but in everyday life I have to pretend otherwise. Thus, the difference between actors (perhaps "artists", although that is debatable) is that their "acting" is legitimized, and thus much more out in the open. Is it any wonder, then, that they may have difficulty separating what might be from what is? Witness the actors and actresses (Legion) who have affairs with every leading man or lady that they work with. A good dose of realism does wonders, but it's often about as pleasant as castor oil.

Andrew Lowe-Watson said...

If we're talking about real artists, the answer is, yes, they are not quite like other people. Sondheim writes about this beautfully in ''Sunday In The Park With George". When his lover Dot accuses him of being cold :

DOT: Artists are bizarre, fixed, strange

and of not caring about her, the painter George Seurel says simply that he cannot go with her to the Follies because:

GEORGE: I have to finish the hat.

Their love founders on this one point of principle - his devotion to a painting is stronger at that moment than to her.

Such single-mindedness can be foud in other walks of life, not just the arts. but it is one indicator of a kind of almost ruthless dedication to work that is not, thankfully, present in all but the most driven individuals , but which is maybe a necessary part of the creation of say, War and Peace or Das Ring des Nibelungen.

To quote SITPWG again:

GEORGE: Art isn't easy.

MaLj said...

I dare not say anything more general about the special qualities or deficiencies of artistic individuals, but of course it is obviously so that certain people - artists or not -- think working with their own ideas and following their hearts is a lot more important, and constitute "good" for them, than being "good" and doing things of a kind and in a way accepted as "normal". I am reading a couple of books (by Michael Fitzgerald) about creative geniuses that can be labeled as "high-functioning autism", and/or as meeting criteria of "Asperger's syndrome". I am not convinced this is a fair and valid approach to discuss people like Beethoven or Wittgenstein, but the new idea in these books is to speak of creative autistic individuals as a different and not as problematic group as "artistic/autistic savants", who are not genuinely creative, because they do not creat anything really original, and are never geniuses or great thinkers.

Well, this was a digression!