December 16, 2017

Flying Through The Flame Of Creativity

Editor’s Note: This is a transcript of a lecture given on the campus of a private college in the late 1980s. I came across this while working for a publisher several years ago. When it came into our possession, we first tried to contact Prof. Van Lorn in order to arrange with him the publication of this transcript. That is when we learned that the professor had passed away in 1996. His nearest living kin, a second cousin, was not interested in participating in what he considered “the ramblings of a man who would have made a much better priest than professor, had he taken my advice,” and signed a waiver allowing the publication of this lecture. The publisher then gave up on the project, and I have received permission to present it here.

Dr. Peter Van Lorn was a professor of art history for more than 40 years, serving at two different small private colleges, one in the Midwest, and the other in his homeland of Canada. This particular lecture was given after he had retired from the Midwestern school. Apparently he was visiting with friends in the town where this college was located and, at the request of the head of the art department, agreed to speak to this class, an Introduction to Art class. At the conclusion of his remarks, applause is heard on the tape for more than two minutes.

The purpose of today’s talk is to try and dissuade you from becoming an artist. If I cannot talk you out of a life spent in the arts, then take this as a warning of what lies ahead.

You notice I do not say “a career in the arts.” A career is something you slip on in the morning as you would a coat, and then hang it up again when you arrive home in the evening. A career is something you can change or modify as you like. A career has a beginning and an ending. In a career you work in order to live, and you strive to work hard in order that you may live well.

A life in the arts, on the other hand, is not a career but a calling. It is what the ancients called a vocation. It is from the Latin word vocatio, meaning “summons” or “calling.” Imagine that you receive a letter from an officer of the court instructing you to appear before the judge on a certain day and at a specific time. You would ignore such a letter, or summons, at your own peril. Life would become very difficult for you if you chose to run from the summons. You would not be a free man; you would always be on the run, looking over your shoulder every minute to see if a policeman was about to arrest you. It is far better to answer a summons than to run from it.

That is the nature of a vocation or calling. You know what you must do, even if you don’t want to do it. You know your life will be miserable if you deny the vocation. But I am here today to tell you that if you answer the call—as you surely must do if you indeed hear such a call—your life will most likely be destroyed.

Creativity is both a grace and a curse. You cannot have one without embracing the other as well. You might as well say you will only inhale and not exhale oxygen. [Here a question is posed by a student, but is not audible on the tape.] Yes, let me explain.

Creativity as a grace. A grace is a privilege that is given to you, not earned by you. It is set against the word “right.”  “Each in his place, by right, not grace, shall rule his heritage” said Kipling. Again we look to the Latin for the foundation of our word. Gratia was used for “favor,” “charm,” and “thank you.” In our usage, it most closely resembles “charm.” Now, charm as a noun originally referred to a song or a chant. But as a verb its original definition included “to affect by magic.” If you charmed someone, you put them under a spell. It was something that was done to you. It was not something you could control, or even something you asked for.  Again, in the 14th century French language  where we first find our word charm, it meant the “endowing with supernatural powers.” If you charmed someone, you used a magical spell to slip some supernatural power inside of them. Thus we go from charm/gratia to our current word grace.

I think we have all known artists who did not study to gain their artistic skill. The jazz pianist, for example, who claims to not be able to read a note of music. Or the sculptor who never took a single class in three-dimensional art. These artists received their talent through an act of grace. It was endowed to them, not earned. I guess we can say that they truly lead a charmed life.

Creativity as a curse. Again, we must reach beyond our current word—curse—for a more foundational word. In this case, the foundation was built upon the Latin “afflictus,” from which we derive our modern “afflict,” meaning to distress so severely as to cause permanent suffering. So we can say that being creative is both to be affected by magic and afflicted with permanent suffering. Van Gogh was such a person. He received by grace the skill to paint, but by the curse of artistic talent he was driven to madness. You will recall that in a fit of madness he sliced off part of his ear. At the age of 37, with hundreds of magnificent paintings to his credit, of which but one was purchased in his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh walked into a wheat field where his easel and paints awaited him, took out a revolver, and shot himself in the chest. He died two days later. Hundreds of psychologists have tried to determine the cause of Van Gogh’s mental state. Was it related to an illness, such as what is now called bi-polar disorder? Was it caused by his contracting syphilis? Could it have been from swallowing lead-based paint? No conclusion from the medical community has been reached. I would put forth that Van Gogh’s mental state was due to the curse of artistic talent which afflicted him with permanent suffering.

Grace and curse. The two are inseparable. Perhaps I have already accomplished my purpose today. Are there any who are now ready to give up the idea of becoming an artist? [There is silence for a space of about three seconds.] No? Well, I must press on then.

I now must take a step back and discuss with you the nature of art within a culture. In our time, and in our western civilization, we have come to believe that art is simply entertainment. We see it as a luxury, as something not necessary for survival, but as an add-on if we have the time or money or energy. Or we see art as utilitarian. It has to serve a specific purpose. A sign painted on a restroom door depicting the silhouette of a man or a woman serves a purpose—it keeps us from walking into the wrong bathroom. Religious art in particular has become utilitarian in our Western culture. Christians have a whole subculture of art they call their own. Music, books, movies, and paintings must show some aspect of their doctrine in order to be “acceptable” to them. Otherwise, it is labeled “secular” and is not trusted. But I don’t wish to take off down a deer path; I must stay on the main road.

There is a much higher calling upon art than this.  So we must exercise effort in order to separate art and entertainment in our minds. Not all art is entertaining, and certainly not all entertainment is art. No, equating art with entertainment will not do. And art is not to be utilitarian. Art is something else entirely. Art is revelatory. Again, art is revelatory.

So the question is, What does art reveal? Well, I think we can safely say that art reveals something about the artist. The music composed by, say, Handel or Bach reveals men who had, on the whole, a joyful and positive outlook on life. Their music reflects this joy in its selection of tempo, key, and combination of instruments. On the other hand, the works of Mahler are much more melancholic. By that I mean they are very dark, very black tunes. We can therefore surmise, with some degree of correctness, that Handel and Bach were, on the whole, positive, joyful men, while Mahler walked through life in a state of depression. For Bach and Handel, their positive outlook can be attributed, at least in part, to their religion, an external influence in their lives. For Mahler, his darkness came from within.

Mahler suffered as Jew during times of anti-Semitism during the latter years of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries. And he internalized those external responses to the point where he could no longer face his “Jewishness;” he converted to Catholicism in order to obtain an appointment as the director of the Vienna Opera and felt enormously guilty for his perceived betrayal. Mahler did not marry until later in his life at age 41. His wife, Alma Schindler, was also a musician and composer. But Mahler forbade Alma from creating music. Her place, said Mahler, was to tend to his needs. Perhaps it was because of his denial of her artistic calling Alma took up with a lover after only a few years of their marriage. Mahler and his wife had two daughters, one of whom died at the too-young age of four. The same year his daughter died, Mahler was diagnosed with heart disease and was told to limit his movements as much as possible in order to prolong his life. In 1908 he left Europe to take the regal position as director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, only to be let go the following year. You can begin to see what I mean by Mahler leading a depressing life.

When listening to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, pay attention to the final three orchestral chords. They speak of Mahler’s dismissal from the New York Opera, the death of his daughter, and the prophecy of his own death. When Mahler did succumb to an illness and died in 1911, he was buried, according to his wishes, in a silent graveside ceremony. Thus, Mahler’s dark music, filled with progressions from minor keys through flats and sharps and ending again in a minor key, reveals the dark life of the composer. Thus, art is revelatory.

But true creativity leads to a revelation of something more important, something greater than the nature of the artist. Creativity leads to art that reveals the nature of the Creator Himself. Now, I am not a very religious person myself. And I do not claim to be qualified to teach on matters of religion. But please allow me to venture, not into the realm of religion, but into an attempt to discuss the nature of the Creator.

If we are to accept what I have set forth already—that is, that art is a vocation, something done to us, as in a spell that is cast upon us, becoming endowed with supernatural powers—then we must accept that there is a Force beyond the scope of our knowledge issuing the vocational call. We can call this Force by many names, but for this talk I chose to refer to the Force as the Creator. And I will use the masculine pronoun out of convenience. I leave the merit of this decision for discussion in the Women’s Studies courses. [Here laughter is heard from the students.]

So the question remaining for us to answer is this: What role does the artist play in revealing the nature of the Creator, if the Creator is the one who endows the artist with the power to create? [There is a question asked from a student, to which the professor responds by repeating the previous statement more slowly.] I think we can safely make at least one assumption, and that is this. If the artist, in his own power, attempts to show some characteristic of the Creator, it almost always turns out wrong. Think of paintings done by artists during the middle ages, the time before the Renaissance when the Catholic Church wielded their greatest influence. Paintings of Madonna and Child often tried to show a baby with greater powers than an infant naturally has: paintings of the Child, apparently no more than a few months old, holding out its hand over the head of another person in the form of a religious blessing. In trying to show the divinity of the Christ Child, the artist misses entirely the human nature of the Christ.

Georgia O’Keefe expressed the futility of trying to make art a picture of reality when she said, “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint.” She also said, “Nothing is less real than realism.” Let me repeat that. Nothing Is Less Real Than Realism.

Perhaps that picture does not help you understand what I am trying to say. Let us look at another example, again a picture, but this time a moving picture. Recall with me the made-for-television movie Jesus Of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring British-born actor Robert Powell as Jesus. This movie attempted to show in a way that could be perceived as “real” the life of Jesus as taken from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Again, however, we encounter difficulties with a creative work that tries within the limited scope of the artist to reflect the true nature of the Creator. For instance, how many who watched this miniseries were convinced that Jesus, the real Jesus, was blue-eyed and fair-skinned? How many viewers were distracted by thinking back on Mr. Powell’s previous appearances on the screen, including roles as Captain Walker in the movie version of the Who’s rock opera, Tommy, and—ironically—as Gustav Mahler in the movie of the same name? Certainly within Zeffirelli’s efforts there are glimpses of the Creator. But is a direct approach, as with this movie or with painting of the Christ, the best way for art to reveal the Creator’s nature?

I say no, it is not. First of all, we run into cultural and ethnic difficulties almost from the start. Once again, Robert Powell may have spoken the words we have recorded as being those of Jesus of Nazareth, but how many were put off by Powell’s appearance? He does not resemble a man from the Middle East; thus those who are from Israel, Egypt or any other country in the region where Jesus was thought to have lived will immediately be put off by this and most likely will not receive what the artist—in this case, Zeffirelli—is trying to get across. Would it not be better to try and “show” Jesus without showing him at all, as in the case of the movie Ben Hur? In that movie, director Bill Wyler shows us Jesus only through his influence on others, especially Charlton Heston’s character Judah Ben Hur. We never see Jesus—well, we see him briefly from behind, and we see his hands: once as he gives water to Ben Hur, who is being marched as a slave through the desert, and once when they have been nailed to the cross. Ben Hur is, at least to me, a much more powerful picture of Jesus, even though we do not see Jesus directly.

Art does not need to shine a light directly at the Creator. As a matter of course, it cannot. This Force or Creator we are speaking of is the genesis of light. Just as the moon does not create light but merely reflects what the Sun in its nature extends, so art does not create the reflection of the Creator. Art is like the moon—it reflects light extended to it by the Creator.

I have ventured off course a bit in our discussion, haven’t I? My purpose today is to talk you out of becoming an artist. But I wanted you to get an idea of what art is and is not meant to be. Now that I have muddied up the room, let me attempt to get back on our path.

Creativity is a fire. Not a small flame on the head of a candle, but a roaring fire, such as the bonfire you all had last Friday before your football game Saturday afternoon. By the way, congratulations on your fine win. I believe that puts you into the championship game, does it not? [Here we hear applause from the students.] Yes, well, I hope you win that game as well. Think of the flames that shot up as the bonfire was lit. In almost no time at all the entire pile of wood that was assembled was engulfed in these flames. Now, imagine if you were to have released the hand of your boyfriend or girlfriend, drawn near to the fire, and stepped right into it. What would have happened? That’s right—you would have been engulfed by the flames yourself. You would have been changed, wouldn’t you? You would never be the same again. Most likely you would have died, but even if you had lived you would bear the scares of that fire.

Creativity works in just the same way. In order to be an artist who is capable of reflecting the nature of the Creator, you will have to be changed, changed in a permanent scarring fashion. Let me give you a few examples of those who passed through the flame of creativity.

Ernest Hemingway is perhaps the greatest influence on several generations of writers.  J.D. Salinger corresponded with Hemingway and was shaped by his responses. Jack Kerouac, the famous “beat poet,” and so-called “gonzo journalist” Hunter S. Thompson claim Hemingway’s direction in their writing. Douglas Coupland, who named you Generation X, said no one influenced his writing more than Hemingway.

Hemingway was incredibly talented as a writer, whether as a wartime newspaper reporter, short story writer or novelist. His compact sentences wring more value per word than perhaps any other writer in any language. It is not exaggeration to say Hemingway was one of the greatest writers in the English language. He had walked through the flame of creativity. And what were the consequences of that commitment?

Hemingway became an alcoholic early in life. He blamed his learning to love the drink when he was laid up in a hospital in France recovering from severe wounds he received as an ambulance driver and correspondent during World War I. His drinking became an anchor he wore throughout his life. While in that same hospital Hemingway met a nurse who at first promised to return to America with Hemingway, but then fell for an Italian officer and left with him instead. Hemmingway proceeded to fumble his way through four mostly unhappy marriages in his life. He was, obviously, very difficult to get along with, not only with his wives, but with his friends as well. Further accidents and illnesses contributed to Hemingway becoming severely depressed, so much so that in July of 1961 he stood in his home in Idaho, leaned his forehead just above his eyes against the barrels of a shotgun, and pulled both triggers.

Hemingway, the incredibly talented writer, was permanently afflicted by his talent, lived a contentious life and suffered a horrible death—the consequences, I believe, of walking through the burning flame of creativity.

Shall we look at another? Jimi Hendrix is someone most of you can remember. And I know I may seem a bit old to even know who Hendrix was, [Van Lorn was 71 at the time of this talk], but, and I know you may choose not to believe this, I have all of his albums and listen to them often. Call it one of the things that makes me, um, unique.

By the way, Hendrix is a good example of someone receiving artistic talent as a grace. He only earned one failing grade in high school. Can you guess what class that was in? [A variety of voices in the class call out an answer.] That’s right—music class. He learned to play the guitar by first running a piece of string the length of a broomstick and strumming that. Then his father found a one-stringed ukulele and Hendrix taught himself several songs on that. Finally at age 15 he scraped together five dollars and bought a secondhand acoustic guitar.

I don’t have the time to recount the entirety of Jimi Hendrix’s life story today. Besides, you know of him fairly well, I’m sure. Suffice it to say that there never has been, nor ever will be, a guitarist like Hendrix. His unique style and blazing finger work will not be duplicated. Hendrix created a style that cannot be copied. He was graced with creative talent on the electric guitar—but remember, where there is the grace of creativity, there is also the curse.

The best way to describe the off-stage life of Jimi Hendrix is to say he was not comfortable in his own skin. Perhaps what was inside of him was too big for his physical being. Whatever the case may be, we know that in the weeks and months before his death, he consumed an incredible amount of illegal drugs and alcohol.  One night in September of 1970, Jimi Hendrix lay down and never got back up. The official report says he literally drowned in his own vomit. His death left a void in the music landscape that may never again be filled. Jimi Hendrix walked through the flame of creativity and was forever changed.

We could talk of other musicians, such as Mozart, who lived short lives because of the scars the fire left in them. We could speak of authors such as Salinger who, though still alive, is crippled inside by what the flame has done.

I want to leave you today with this, well, I suppose I could call it a prayer. I pray that you consider long and hard what you have heard today. If you are considering a life in the arts, have you truly received such a summons? If not, do not pursue it. Flee. Find a safe profession where you can live a safe, normal life. Do not take magic upon yourself that is not meant for you. If, on the other hand, you have received a summons, a call, to the arts, well then: prepare to be burned, to be scarred. You will not live a normal, safe life. Yours will be an existence of triumph and heartache, and often you will not be able to tell them apart. Create, create with all your heart, create as if there is no tomorrow. For, as you now know, there is no tomorrow for one called to the vocation of art. There is only today.

Thank you.

 

Comments

  1. br thomas says:

    Wow!

  2. That Other Jean says:

    And again: Wow!

  3. JoanieD says:

    “Art is like the moon—it reflects light extended to it by the Creator.”

    I like that.

    • Adrienne says:

      That was my favorite quote, too. I’m absolutely blown away. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.

  4. I was listening to Mahler the other day. We talked about him in music appreciation. I listen to classical music as it helps me fall asleep at night…

  5. BTW….Which college was this given at? Can you say Jeff?

  6. Vitality springs from the cross. Without the real experience of the cross we cannot bring life to the world. It cannot be manufactured and placed in religious clothing. The Christian life is art to the highest degree. We are in fact provided with a written garauntee of suffering.

  7. I’ve been an artist all of my life and I think the struggle to fit in with the accepted order of society or even religious beliefs is part of the curse. I’ve always felt like I am stuck outside.
    Joseph Campbell, in his comparative religious studies, has often said that it is up to the artists in society to communicate the mystical truths that mankind needs to be whole. (badly paraphrased, I’m sure)
    It is a blessing and a curse to be an artist. Thanks for posting this lecture.

  8. I am exploring the idea that true artists tap into a parallel “universe” for their inspiration, much as certain mathematicians do with a perfect realm of pure mathematics. While this is a very Platonic concept, it is not inconsistent with God’s creation of perfect knowledge.

    Let me give a quick parallel that I do not have time to look back up for references – in “The Mind of God”, written by professor Paul Davies (not a traditional Christian as far as I can discern).

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Mind-God-Scientific-Rational/dp/0671797182

    The book tells the true story of an uneducated Indian gentleman “discovered” by a British man that noticed he had an uncanny mathematical aptitude. He took him to Britain, where the Indian in a very brief time formulated incredible mathematical proofs, some still enigmas to this day. This is strong evidence that the person did not go through the normal mental steps at all, but rather short circuited through a realm that most of us cannot even dream about.

    One more example – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, perhaps the greatest single creative act that led to the end of slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe testified that, while she did “write” the book, she feels that she received the storyline in a vision from God. She then wrote what she had seen.

    On another note, Harriet Beecher Stowe is someone who, as a brilliant writer, kept her faith alive and managed to avoid the full blown “curse” by which so many other artists have been crushed.

    • This story about HBS goes along with something Madeleine L’Engle said repeatedly about her writing: it worked best when she got out of the way and let the story tell itself. All she had to do was listen.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    Jeff, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful piece. It is the best definition and description of what a calling to the artistic life actually means to a person. Every so often the creative power of the universe breaks into a person’s life and cannot be tamed. And it is so powerful that suffering is impossible to avoid, afflicting body, soul, and mind. Think of that power “in the beginning.” “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep.” And God said “Let there be…”.

    And it could not be contained.

  10. If an artist is someone who volunteers to be consumed by fire, then it matters greatly to choose the right fire to be consumed by! I don’t buy the idea that being a great artist necessarily requires being a tragic figure. As he says about Bach and others, there are artists with a generally positive outlook on life, after all. They were consumed by a positive passion that overflowed into their art, rather than a negative one.

    We experience art as powerful when it expresses deep emotion. That’s what imbues it with the ability to captivate us. And, negative emotion comes much easier, and also connects much more viscerally with most people. This is why any mediocre writer can write a scene where two characters are angry at each other, but writing a scene presenting believable love between people is much more difficult. Dark, depressing poetry is easier to write than uplifting poetry because the latter so often comes out sounding trite. I think the Force in Star Wars is a good metaphor – the energy and power of our “dark side” emotions is much more accessible and much easier to stir up at will, but if we draw our power and creative impulse from there, the end result is destructive.

  11. Peace From The Fringes says:

    Although I appreciate ChrisS’s comment: “Vitality springs from the cross. Without the real experience of the cross we cannot bring life to the world”, I respectfully disagree. We have found our Creator through Christ. This in no way negates the vitality, artistry and genius that others have discovered through their own faith traditions. I may have misunderstood, but to claim that anything outside of Christianity is somehow devoid of vitality strikes me as a terribly ‘small’ way to view our planet, its history and the wealth and diversity of its occupants.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “anything outside of Christianity is somehow devoid of vitality strikes me as a terribly ‘small’ way to view our planet, its history and the wealth and diversity of its occupants.”

      I agree. Just the fact we are human, born into this world as individuals means that we have the power of creation within us. And thus many times it cannot and will not be contained. God doesn’t wait until He discerns our response to Him to endow us with this gift. It’s innately part of the created being of those who have it.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly and forgive me for not bring clearer. I was trying to draw the parallel but not to diminish or smallize in any way. It just jumped out at me that to embark upon the journey of living in the spirit has many parallels to the artist and his muse. We do not choose Him but He chooses us. The spirit groans in travail within us until our adoption… The art and artistry of Christ come to fruition in our lives through the fire. I can see how I appeared to be pigeon holing to fit things into a smaller context but this blog is, after all, centered on Jesus and our experience of Him. We can absolutely be Christ centered without being ‘Christian’ centered and plugging everything into our pet categories; yes.

      • Peace From The Fringes says:

        I see what you’re getting at now. Thanks for the additional explanation.

      • elastigirl says:

        If we’re talking about art and creativity, this is too much of religious spin (to me).

        I tend to think overspiritualizing art and creative inspiration KILLZ it. It has a life of its own and there’s nothing like religious conviction to make one afraid of it, distrustful of it, feel a need to control it…. to legislate it. By that point, it has already been dead for quite a while.

  12. JoanieD says:

    Dorothy Sayers wrote a good book about God and creativity called The Mind of the Maker. It’s worth a read. I enjoyed it.

    I also do not think that artists have to be full of suffering. Some are, some are not and it’s not like the non-suffering ones are inferior. (Not than anyone here has said that, mind you.)

    I think some artists suffer because they get involved with using too much alcohol or drugs. You may say, well, if they were not suffering, they would not have felt that they had to use those things” and that may be true, but the tragedy is that they have not realized there are ways of dealing with their angst, anger, powerful emotions without resorting to drugs. God has created human beings in such a way that they can have contact with Him and from that can flow a powerful, life-giving God-medicine. People may not like to refer to encountering God in that way, but if drugs can change the workings of our brains and bodies, and if God chose to Incarnate as a human being, then I have no problem with understanding that it is through our bodies and minds that God works and he does so in a very direct, mind-altering, body-healing way. Will we still suffer? Yes, because as long as we live in these bodies, there will be suffering and there will be death. But through it all, we can have contact with God. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore sons and daughters of God. We should not forget that, but we often do. (At least, I know I forget!)

    • Not all artists get involved with chemical distractions, yet they suffer. The suffering often comes during the creative process itself. It’s difficult to simply just DO a painting. When an artist just slaps something on the canvas, It looks like they just slapped something on the canvas. The suffering comes with the creativity, with trying to make something that is inside of you a part of the external world for all to see. Many times there is no satisfaction for the artist when everything they do is just not what they want it to be.
      I can understand why some would turn to drugs and alcohol. I don’t use them, but there are times when I wish I could escape from my self-inflicted creative messes.

      • Wenatchee The Hatchet says:

        I don’t know if this comment will make it (earlier attempt failed) but the creative process is the fun part for me. The process of writing a piece of music is challenging but that’s the fun part. The tedious part is practicing the finished musical work for months or even years to get it to the point where it’s ready for other people to hear.

    • elastigirl says:

      A word on suffering / creativity:

      A music professor made the comment, “It’s the resistance that brings out the creativity.”

      That resonated.

  13. Randy Thompson says:

    A very interesting piece.

    However:

    1. Beethoven wrote his joyous 8th Symphony while completely depressed. Joy, in art, can come out of dark places, not just despair.

    2. Mahler did write some astoundingly hopeful and joyful music. I’m thinking especially of his 2nd Symphony (“Resurrection”), 4th Symphony (a joyful piece using a poem in the final movement that describes a child’s description of heaven), and 8th Symphony ( the “Symphony of a 1000”) where he uses the ancient hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come Creator Spirit”) in an extraordinarily powerful setting. Granted, the 6th Symphony is not at all a “happy” piece.

    Mahler may well be a good example of how the artistic enterprise can be both a curse and a blessing, with Symphonies 2, 4 and reflecting the blessing, and the 6th Symphony (and “Das Lied von der Erde”) the curse, with the other symphonies somewhere in between.

    It’s too easy to say Bach and Handel were happy, therefore they wrote happy music, while Mahler was sad and therefore wrote sad music.

  14. Matt Purdum says:

    Sorry. Just think the whole “suffering artist” stereotype is way overblown. Can’t see that Hendrix really suffered that much, he was no ghetto kid, a solid product of the middle class, pretty much got everything he wanted. Tens of thousands of young people since at least the 1950s have overdosed or killed themselves, hardly any were suffering artists, most were in fact somewhat spoiled, prideful party animals with an overblown sense of invulnerability. Hendrix just happened to be a guitarist, that’s all. I have dozens of musician friends, happy creative people who know they are blessed to be part of the great work of Creation. We have our sufferings, sure, but nobody’s gonna kill themselves, fer cryin out loud.

    • I think you helped make the author’s original point, re: Hendrix. He’s not saying that art is born out of suffering (so Hendrix didn’t have to start out as a “ghetto kid” ); he’s saying that suffering is born out of the creative process. So if wholly normal person accepts the call to creativity, he or she can expect to suffer.

      Is anyone else picking up on the prophetic theme? How normal was Amos, Jeremiah, Gideon, etc.? How normal are we when Christ calls? Count the cost, artist….prophet….Christian.

      (By the way Matt, if you’re going to talk about overblown stereotypes, please don’t resort to insensitively using them in your argument)

  15. humanslug says:

    Among the many things that He was and is, I think maybe Jesus was also an artist.
    But rather than painting or literature or sculpture or music, His medium was life itself.
    And He expressed His art moment by moment in all His words and actions, in how He related to people, and in how He lived in total obedience to His Heavenly Father.
    And like all true artists, He suffered because of His art — He even died pursuing it.
    And if His artistic medium was life, then His greatest work of art was the sacrificial giving of His life on the cross — a gruesome, grotesque, and glorious work that will forever stand on display as the centerpiece and cornerstone of creation.
    And with His resurrection, that carpenter from Nazareth built a doorway to an entirely new creation.
    But unlike all other artists, Jesus not only reveals divinity and truth — He is truth and divine revelation made flesh.
    And He is still expressing and sharing His art through us, His students.