Monday, September 26, 2011

The Artistic Temperament

At a recent lunch with the fabulous blogettes, conversation turned to the nature of artistic temperament. We have all read articles about the connection between genius and mental illness. We have also read and heard accounts of profoundly nasty moves made by some who are regarded as innovative, brilliant, immortal and gifted. What is the connection?

The nature of mania can be what is often called a brainstorm. With all circuits firing at breakneck speed, some have harnessed this heightened awareness and let their paint brush, their type writers, or quill pens, take record some of these rapid fire thoughts.

Any state or mood of increased consciousness would never yield great work in and of itself. The initial flow may be prolific and intense, but it could also be a great mess, yielding nothing of use to anyone. The ride on the back of a bucking bronco may be thrilling, but it is altogether too short. So a second talent is needed; one that allows for the discipline of picking oneself up once the inevitable crash follows in its wake. During those days of low energy, slow, painstaking effort and focus is needed to add layers and at the same time, discard all that is superfluous. With great luck, a beautifully crafted work of art may ensue.

What is the artistic temperament? Lord Byron wrote: “We of the craft are all crazy.... all are more or less touched.” Is it a medical condition, a fine madness, or is it something brought on by the nature of the creative process? While most would feel the former is the most likely, I am tending more towards the latter. The forces of the world around us, seem to conspire in every shape and form to pull us away from the solitary work and into what what Virginia Woolf described as the “tramp and trudge of life.”

Who lives on a street where the neighbors would discourage attendance at a pot luck party in favor solitary confinement in a studio? Is the excessive sensitivity and irritability, as one definition stated, a result of what is required to keep the galloping herd at bay? This is what I wonder.

The romantic myth of the suffering artist and its link to creativity as a kind of requirement for genius is, to some extent, a bit overblown. Plenty of successful working artists and writers live a steady and rather quiet life, where family duties are wedded to productivity and acclaim. It is not necessary to have a train wreck of personal relationships followed by an early death in a sad hotel room in order to be declared a genius. Yet, it is often the perception.

Part of the conflict and tension one reads about and is attributed to the artistic temperament, could also be tied to the anxiety inherent in wanting recognition, acclaim and financial security. If it constantly eludes a person who is truly original, sticks their neck out in a dramatic fashion, takes huge risks and displays a lack of restraint in order to do so, and goes completely unrecognized in their lifetime, would not that fear and uncertainty contribute to a less compliant nature?

Lord Byron used the word "touched" do describe his fellow poets. Touched by angels would be my description.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.


Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

As always,Lizzie B. you write with both wisdom, and heart. I like that you equate artistic temperament with being touched by an angel :)

elizabethbrinton said...

Thank you Kathy. You are very kind considering it was you who got me to thinking...