At the end of a recent meeting of the writing workshop I facilitate, when reminding members we next meet on Valentine’s Day, one or two authors let me know they wouldn’t be coming. They would instead be with their valentine.
“What?! Hanging out with loved ones instead of spending time with your real passion, your novel (or story, poem or essay)?”
Naturally, I didn’t yell that, instead thinking of joking, “Don’t love the one you’re with; love the manuscript you’re married to! Who needs family and friends when you’ve got your art to keep you in solitude and drink?”
I kid. And I don’t.
Many artistic geniuses who write a neo-Joycean tome, paint a contemporary Mona Lisa or compose a new take on Beethoven’s or Mahler’s Fifth Symphony create the sublime at a cost.
Selfishness. Egocentricity. Even violence.
“From brawling with soldiers, fellow artists and landladies, to committing murder over a game of tennis and running from the law, [the painter] Caravaggio was doomed to play both hero and villain in his own infamous life story” (smithsonianmag.com, March 7, 2007).
Novelist Ayn Rand “thought European colonists had every right to take land from American Indians. She said that being gay was “immoral” and “disgusting,” and she basically promotes being entirely selfish and self-interested as the key to happiness” (huffpost.com, Sept. 15, 2013).
“When, in 1832, [composer Hector Berlioz] learned that the mother of his fiancée, the pianist Marie Moke, had decided instead to marry off her daughter to the piano manufacturer Camille Pleyel, the composer … equipped himself with a pair of double-barreled revolvers with the intention of killing the three of them. ... He also packed some poison as a backup method and the disguise of a dress, wig … so he could gain access to Moke’s home” (Classical-music.com, Sept. 3, 2014). Luckily, he forgot his disguise and abandoned the plan.
Not to mention the scurrilous high jinks of rock and movie stars.
Moreover, the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day triggers the question about the human weaknesses of some of our most heroic leaders, such as King Jr.’s and John F. Kennedy’s alleged extramarital affairs. Kennedy urged us to help, not take from, our country; King preached a dream of unity and love. Do we ignore these great summonses because of the speakers’ marital transgressions?
Can we, should we, appreciate the art if not approving of the artist?
In the recent movie “Tar,” Cate Blanchett stars as a classical music conductor at the pinnacle of her career. She feels privileged and empowered. However (SPOILER ALERT), the film reveals her past pattern of #MeToo infractions; she used her position to use, then discard, subordinates.
Can audiences still relish Tar’s recordings of Mahler’s symphonies knowing she once preyed on vulnerable devotees?
Geniuses often live lives not of Thoreau’s “quiet desperation,” but of constant yearning. Yearning to find and follow the “flow,” a transcendent state of mind unaware of time and space. Yearning to find and produce something unique (“Make it new,” poet Ezra Pound urged his 1920′s Lost Generation).
Given such obsessive urges, artists may not recognize, but instead deny, the needs of others, even their loved ones.
Especially their loved ones.
Can we forgive them? Perhaps not. Can we still admire their inspired work? Although film director Woody Allen entered into inappropriate relationships with (much) younger women, I allow myself delight when watching his films.
To paraphrase another Monsieur Rick, “We’ll always have (Midnight in) Paris.”
• Rick Holinger’s poetry and prose have appeared in more than 100 literary journals. His poetry book “North of Crivitz” and essay collection “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences” are available at local bookstores, Amazon or richardholinger.net. Contact him at email@example.com.