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Author Topic: The "Artistic Temperment"
Member # 2197

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I read an interesting take on artists (such as writers) who feel compelled always to talk about art or always to be "artistic," written by the late, great G.K. Chesterton. I thought I would share it here and see what people think:

"The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, very great artists are able to be ordinary men-- men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art."

[This message has been edited by J (edited March 31, 2005).]

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Member # 2088

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I love that. I'm printing it out.
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Pyre Dynasty
Member # 1947

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Wow, that gives me a different perspective on "Finding Neverland."
But I like my artistic temperment, I think I'll keep it a while.

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Member # 2464

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Reminds me of a few people I knew in art school.

[This message has been edited by Wenderella (edited March 31, 2005).]

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Member # 1438

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If Shakespeare and Browning are ordinary people, that makes the rest of us extraordinary.
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Member # 2387

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I love it! That's going on my door, along with all the other quotes that I love.
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Member # 2442

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My all time favorite quote about artistic creativity is by Gilda Radner, who said:

"I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity."

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Member # 2410

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The man certainly had a way with words, didn't he?

I haven't decided whether being far less talented than Shakespeare or Browning makes me more or less ordinary (they amount to the same thing, if you think about it).

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Member # 213

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I think that it might be overstating things to say that the "artistic temperament" "is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being."

Though it is very true that the emotional extremes characteristic of that temperament usually arise out of the tension between intense desire to create and various impedences to creativity, the simple fact is that having difficulties being creative isn't part of the artistic temperament. The vast majority of humans have difficulty being highly creative (which is sort of a tautology, if most people could be highly creative, then that level of creativity wouldn't be "high", would it?).

The difference is that those with a certain temperament experience a felt need to be more creative. So even with modest native talents, these individuals will struggle to produce art, sometimes at immense personal cost.

And that's a good thing. After all, a certain number of highly talented people are also very lazy. Even the most talented person, if lacking in the simple drive to create, will create as little as the person that has no talent at all, and probably less if that other person is hungry to create.

Shakespeare might not have had enough drive to try and use his writing to remake England (some of his contemporaries, and at least one of his cousins, did try, and died for it). But he certainly had enough drive to make his way in the uncertain and highly competitive (sometimes literally cut-throat) world of Elizabethian theater rather than in some less creative field. And he often cared passionately about the themes he addressed in his writing. The historical context in which he wrote Othello is particularly enlightening and a reminder that the most truly liberal values are not an invention of the modern era (nor do we need to go on inventing silly new ways to be "progressive", but that's speaking as a classic liberal).

The man cared about his art, he wasn't just doing it because it was the easiest way to put bread on his table. He had personal reasons to strive to be the best, he also had causes to which he lent his art. He wasn't tormented, as the artist who is denied the ability to create, but he wasn't content.

And he most certainly wasn't ordinary.

Still, I agree that there is too much of a tendancy to believe that an artist must have great difficulty creating for the art to be worthwhile. In the end, the text is the text, whether written in blood or indigo. Styling oneself as a superior artist because of an inability to create is the most petty sort of vanity, a childish deliberate despite against anyone having more.

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