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Leigh Witchel

Can a "genius" or a "real artist" be a decent pers

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  1. 1. Can a "genius" or a "real artist" be a decent pers

    • true, extraordinary talent and decency don't mix
      11
    • false, they do
      65

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75 posts in this topic

Has not the 20th century (and we still seem, alas, to be in the 20th century philosophically) concept of the Genius as Tortured Artist/Bad Guy replaced the 18th century angel genius, as the anti-hero and outsider have replaced the hero? Imagine, if you can, a painter who does not abuse his models, is not a drug addict, has been married to the same woman for 20 years, does not have a mistress, is a model father, and is nice to his mother. Imagine that you are this poor fellow's PR agent. How can you sell him? Dull as dirt -- he can't possibly be an artist. He's nice. He's decent. He's doomed.

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I suppose the alternative is an otherwise decent person with a form of mental illness that heightens perception or involves mood swings - Van Gogh comes to mind, or the currently popular Virginia Woolf. The behavior is not the result of a conscious choice to be moral or not, or to conform to society's rules.

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I think Mary's described the contemporary notion of a "good genius". But I wonder, thinking about it, if my example above (the Nice Guy) could be considered a genius in today's climate. If his art reflects his life, I think it would be considered to have no edge. If it reflected a darker inner life, he'd receive serious consideration, but people would spend the next century poking around to figure out where the darkness came from. If he's not evil, he's bipolar or schizophrenic does seem to be the contemporary stereotype.

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I'm glad this topic surfaced again. I only know one ballet genius, and she's very nice.

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I can't believe I never posted on this thread before. :blush:

I don't have much to say--just that I don't care how much of a genius someone is; if his/her behavior is outright rude or cruel or unreasonable (as opposed to minorly impolite) I wouldn't work with him/her.

Anecdotally, many people don't consider Béjart to be a genius, but then, many others do, and he is one of the kindest people I have ever met. In terms of an artist who is difficult to work with, look no further can Kathleen Battle. Everyone agrees she's a great singer, but she's so horrible to work with that she's been banned from every major opera house in the US...and then contrast with Renée Fleming, who is an even greater singer than Battle and by all accounts extremely nice. :wub:

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I was wondering what sort of things that Kathleen Battle actually did, so I found this on the net:

"The Metropolitan Opera soprano Kathleen Battle, it is said, was riding in a Southern California limousine once upon a time and felt cold. So she cell-phoned her agent in New York and ordered him to call the driver and tell him to turn down the air conditioning.

On another occasion, she is reported to have called the management of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to complain that her hotel's room service had put peas in her pasta.

It's said that she once held up the release of a record for six months because she didn't like the way her breasts looked in the jacket photo."

http://www.nydailynews.com/city_life/big_t...4p-162763c.html

She MUST be crazy because PEAS are magnificent!

I think Leigh chose the wrong word here in this thread, it should be can a "genius" or "real artist" be a "normal" person.

The most normal genius I know of in arts history was JS Bach. Are there some others?

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Actually, I'm very pea-averse myself, but the aptly named soprano seems to lack a knack for efficient problem solving.

I also think there is a big difference between genius (by definition not a normal person) and a real artist. A genius comes along once or twice in a generation and changes -- forever -- their field of endeavor.

It should be noted that mediocrities often lack manners, too. Although, as dirac pointed out, they are more likely to be discouraged when their tantrums backfire. It's been my experience that people who are secure in their position generally treat others civilly. The insecure are the ones who seem to expect others to bow to their irrational whims. Not a hard and fast rule, but in general.

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It should be noted that mediocrities often lack manners, too.  Although, as dirac pointed out, they are more likely to be discouraged when their tantrums backfire.  It's been my experience that people who are secure in their position generally treat others civilly.  The insecure are the ones who seem to expect others to bow to their irrational whims.  Not a hard and fast rule,  but in general.

So true, carbro. And we might wonder how many of us nice and civil people -- at least I think I'm civil most of the time! -- would turn Battle-esque under the pressure of stardom.

When I think of a nice-guy, albeit small-A, artist, I think of Bruce Springsteen.

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:devil:
When I think of a nice-guy, albeit small-A, artist, I think of Bruce Springsteen.

Before he hit it big, he played for my high school dances and Friday night Teen Canteens.

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Actually, Springsteen has a few diva-like attributes that are generally underplayed in adoring profiles or go completely unmentioned. (Which is not to say that kfw is wrong and he isn’t a decent guy – but he’s been a very big star for a very long time, and that takes a toll -- no matter how nice you are.)

Battle’s problems, from what one reads, went way beyond the customary Don’t You Know I’m A Star behavior. It’s too bad.

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Frank Zappa was a really decent guy, if we are talking about 'rock' musicians now. I think he was more in the genius category than Bruce Springsteen!

Regarding Kathleen Battle; she was Battle but her voice was unbelievably beautiful...I remember her Zerlina from the 1987 Karajan recording of Don Giovanni and certain phrases she sang in the recitatives have stuck in my mind because the sound her voice made was so extraordinarily touching. Ideally a good musician is not to be too much affected by timbre alone!

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Pamina, Naneta, Adina, Despina: all nice girls. (Alright, Despina isn't entirely nice.) The early images of Battle smiling beautifully and singing with apparent joy, intelligence and effortlessness. She was always delightful to listen to and watch on stage or tv screen.

I admit, though, I can't listen or watch now without thinking of the personality problems that surfaced later. And that's sad.

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Battle's voice is very lovely, but her voice type is not the rarest, and the type of roles written specifically for it are the ones that require voice quality, great technique, and taste. However, in my opinion, these roles don't require great artistry to be effective, as do the more varied characters sung by a Wagnerian/Strauss soprano or the more dramatic Mozart or Verdi roles and the majority of soprano roles written in the 20th century. There are few great lieder singers from her voice type, Elly Ameling being one of the exceptions.

I've never thought Battle had much artistic range, which is why it has always surprised me that her ego was tolerated as long as it was.

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Agreed on range. But what's done WITHIN one's range is important, too. And knowing one's limitations. Battle knew how to select repetoire that suited her voice. And suited her (stage) personality too.

Interesting point about Ameling's voice type, Helene. I never thought of the connection, but I guess it's no coincidence that Ameling was one the few singers whose lieder/aria recitals I tried never to miss when I lived in NYC.

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Frank Zappa was a really decent guy, if we are talking about 'rock' musicians now.  I think he was more in the genius category than Bruce Springsteen.

I know what you mean, PetipaFan, but while this isn't the place to debate the merits of a couple of pop artists (I probably shouldn't have mentioned "Broooce" in the first place), it's worth noting that one was clever and funny and musically sophisticated, the other goes right for the gut. One spoke to the head, the other speaks to the heart; you may disagree, but I mention this only because it seems to me that artistic genius does both.

To get at least part way back to Leigh's original question, if we agree that artistic genius -- that great art -- by definition touches both body and mind, it's of course all the more remarkable that artistic talent and vision of a high order is so often acccompanied by narcissism. How can people capable of deep feeling, and thus of deep emotional suffering, be so callous as to inflict it on others? A far too simple question, probably.

Anyhow, Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry I've come to love in the year since his death, at least acknowledged that in his devotion to his art, and in his ambition, he hurt those around him. Contrast that with another pop artists whom I won't name, often called a genius, who could ask bluntly, "when I am in the darkness, why must you intrude?"

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I think it’s legitimate to mention popular artists in a general topic of the sort that is the subject of this thread – as long as the discussion doesn’t wander out of the paddock into fan argument. So mentioning Springsteen wasn’t out of line, IMO. Popular artists can be geniuses. (Parenthetically, Dylan has written many other lyrics that display tenderness and sensitivity. He’s also composed lyrics that express scorn, sarcasm, anger, self loathing, despair, depression, etc. He’s an artist with many sides, although maybe not Mr. Nice Guy personally.)

bart writes:

Agreed on range. But what's done WITHIN one's range is important, too. And knowing one's limitations. Battle knew how to select repetoire that suited her voice. And suited her (stage) personality too

Staying with the matter of topic discipline we don't want to turn this into the Battle thread. (I agree with you, though, bart.) :flowers:

kfw writes:

How can people capable of deep feeling, and thus of deep emotional suffering, be so callous as to inflict it on others?

It’s a very good question. I'd suggest that a genius is, finally, human and subject to all the ordinary human failings. And once you are acknowledged, even if only by a few, as a genius, and therefore special, you become a “star” of sorts and hence inclined to the kinds of self-centered behavior that characterizes all stars, even those who, well, aren’t even that talented. :)

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kfw writes:
How can people capable of deep feeling, and thus of deep emotional suffering, be so callous as to inflict it on others?

Kfw's paradox suggests that these people may lack the capacity for empathy. At it's most intense, this is is the failing of the sociopath.

It's one thing to feel deeply one's OWN suffering -- or even to capture and project it on others for the purposes of art.

But it's quite another thing to care about (and participate in) the way other people feel.

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Interesting point, bart. Wagner comes to mind.

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I read this thread with interest. My first real job was for the impresario Sol Hurok (in the dark ages before most of you were born). I was in charge of travel for all of the soloists that he managed. I can say that in some cases the artists were really egotistical and unduly difficult to work with. But some of the artists were wonderful thoughtful people. And, some were inbetween....difficult to work with but realizing this, they would thank me by praising my work to my boss, Sol Hurok. Among the artists who were always thoughtful, Marian Anderson comes to mind....at the time when I worked with her, she was only doing talks or speaking in “A Lincoln Portrait.” After she would do a tour, she would actually take the time to telephone me to explain how all of my arrangements had gone right and how things had worked perfectly. David Oistrakh was another wonderful person....he and his wife were “Mama and Papa Oistrakh” to me and I ate lunch with them at the Essex House buffet numerous times (yes, I did speak Russian). So, I guess the answer to the question this thread asks is “yes, no, and sometimes.”

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Thanks for the lovely memories, Renata. And what do you care to tell us about your boss, Mr. Hurok? I suppose he qualifies as a kind of genius.

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I add my thanks, Renata. Yes, tell us more!

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Battle's voice is very lovely, but her voice type is not the rarest, and the type of roles written specifically for it are the ones that require voice quality, great technique, and taste.    There are few great lieder singers from her voice type, Elly Ameling being one of the exceptions.

I've never thought Battle had much artistic range, which is why it has always surprised me that her ego was tolerated as long as it was.

Helene, Battle did start out with quite a sense of exploration. The first Pamina I saw her(in the early 80s) do was breathtakingly beautiful and expressive and I really went thinking she had bitten off way more than she could chew. I thought it was much more beautiful than the Met telecast from about 10 years later

But it all seemed to start to atrophy around the time she turned 40, there was much less imagination and what was a fresh beautiful sound started to tend to sameness and became a bit furry and cloying to boot

So I would say she had her moments but they didn't last too long. Did the emotional things shut down her artistic exploration? Who knows, certainly I won't even try to guess.

Richard

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When I think of a nice-guy, albeit small-A, artist, I think of Bruce Springsteen.

Funny, just by coincidence last weekend I went to dinner in Asbury Park, NJ

( which is making an AMAZING comeback from decay) and I drove by The Stone Pony. Blocks and blocks are being rehabed or built on, but I'm sure this will remain untouched

Richard

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Helene wrote:

I've never thought Battle had much artistic range, which is why it has always surprised me that her ego was tolerated as long as it was.

Breaking the Not-a-Battle-thread guideline. Helene's comment and richard53dog's post have me reflecting that Battle's awareness of her lack of range and vocal options as she aged -- you can't sing Despina forever -- contributed to her temperament. She may have been feeling the pressure.

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Thank you dirac and Farrell Fan for you kind comments about my post. Since I did do all of the travel arrangements for Hurok Concerts, I got to know many details of many artists' lives. But, I guess I prefer to remember the positive things that different people did and not to repeat the less positive. And, in addition to being great artists, like all people, many of them had some special qualities.

Jacqueline du Pre and I shared a birthday although (as I would remind her) hers was a few years ahead of mine. When she learned that we had the same birthday, we began a tradition....we exchanged birthday cards every year until the year she died. And, she always kept up with my news --such as when my first daughter was born--and offered encouragement, which must have been painful for her since she was so ill at the time.

Van Cliburn, is a very gentle, kind man. When I worked for the Hurok office, he would be accosted by fans wherever he went, yet he always had a minute to say hello. A few years ago, he was playing a concert in the city where I live. I went to the dress rehearsal with my two daughters who love classical music and were fairly serious musicians and afterwards, I stopped to say hello. His greeting to my kids was one they will never forget. He bent down, almost kneeling, (he is very tall) to hug them and to talk about the good old days when he and their mom worked at Hurok Concerts.

I could go on and on with these anecdotes, but I think that I would wear out my welcome on this thread. So, I do think that many great people have great human capacity and qualities of caring for others. On the other hand, that does not mean that all great people will have the qualities. It depends on the individual.

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