Nov 26, 2009

Imagining America, Continued: Hawthorne, Artists and Intellectuals

Honing his craft

He embarks. (Could be Robin in Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux")

In response to my November 17 post on Individualism, Paula wrote:

“I'm very sleepy so maybe I shouldn't tackle this but it occurs to me that without Mozart we would simply have something else, most likely good and possibly better. I'm more interested in how people respond to the works than the works themselves anyway.

"Artistic geniuses like Glenn Gould are often so tortured and their lives so unhappy and I'm no fan of romanticizing the creative process, too many family and friends hurt and damaged. Sometimes taking care of your family is a deeper and more important creative act than being a noted musician or poet. I'll know more when I wake up in the morning.”

I think Paula hits on an important pair of ideas. The problem with the point on Mozart, of course, is that we can’t know what might have been. Odds are that Paula is right, but we’ll never know because Mozart did happen. I guess I find it tantalizing to wonder about the “what ifs,” even when I know I’m setting myself up for frustration.

Paula's second point is scarier: art versus life, one of the old, old questions. How do the major talents know they’re major talents and therefore “have permission” to choose art over life and other humans? I realize that borders on a false dichotomy, but I'm throwing it out there anyway. Also, I’m sure that very few young artists (I mean in all fields, including literature) would claim to know their greatness, their long-term significance; if anything, they’d probably tend to say it’s all a scary adventure, but one on which they must embark. The urge will not leave them alone; they don’t choose the urge—it chooses them. Even if that sounds a little LaDeeDah, I can’t discount it. Given the odds against being the next Emily Dickinson, in one’s own lifetime or in eternity, why would anyone choose that path? Arrogance is one answer; lack of alternatives is another. Most likely there are more, but I'm not sure any of them offer foolproof health insurance.

At best the young artist has to make the proverbial leap of faith into another kind of religious pursuit. However, that may be a leap into Self more than an exploration of the mysteries of being, of the Universe, of Spiritus Mundi, of gods and such.

At worst, it stops at plain old self-indulgence. Still, from a handful of such adventurers, we strangers benefit decades and centuries later—not because the artist particularly wanted to help us out, but because he wanted to explore and express himself and his world because it was the only thing that felt good, felt right.



PJ said...

Is it a matter of focus or balance, Banjo? Or both?

Banjo52 said...

Probably both, but I wonder if you can have both if you also have the level of commitment required to choose the rocky road of the artist.

Also, isn't there a school of thought that says genuine artistic creativity is a form of psychopathology? I think the way it goes is that the pathology is sublimated into, or by means of, the artistic expressiveness.

Lovers' Lane