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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

Thank you again, Renata. I agree, it is more pleasant to dwell on the good than the bad. (Perhaps we don't do enough of it, hence the topic under discussion. :)) Your memory of Jacqueline du Pre is lovely. (It's sad to think of how many people out ther have an impression of her only from that movie from a few years back.)

Rest assured, you won't wear out your welcome. :)

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Thanks again from me too, Renata. Your story about Van Cliburn makes me think of Suzanne Farrell (surprise!). My late wife was less than five feet tall and whenever Suzanne talked to her, she'd unobtrusively do a plie so that her face was level with Alice's.

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Rest assured, you won't wear out your welcome.  :) 

Not in this decade, anyway!

Thanks from me, too, Renata. Both stories help humanize our sense of these musicians.

You too, FF! :)

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QUOTE(dirac @ Aug 10 2005, 10:42 PM)

Rest assured, you won't wear out your welcome.   

Not in this decade, anyway!

Certainly not on this board. That sounds like my dream job, Renata. What an incredible first job, especially at such an interesting time in the cultural world. (At the risk of displaying my supreme ignorance, I admit that I think it must have been before I was born).

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"I guess I prefer to remember the positive things that different people did and not to repeat the less positive" --Renata

Thanks for sharing your positive memories with us Renata, I wonder can you tell us anything about Nureyev and Fonteyn or were they after your time working for Hurok?

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Hi Petipa Fan

I was just joking when I said I was born in the dark ages. Some of you seem to think that I was serious. Margot Fonteyn was a Hurok artist before I ever attended a ballet. Although I met both Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, I do not have any exciting anecdotes to add since I worked mainly with solo musicians.

John Cranko once had me do some work for him...he was very pleasant and nice. He had such an understated manner that people in the office asked me who he was after he left my desk.

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Surely, being a 'genius' or a 'real artist' does not give a person an exemption from showing decency in their dealings with other human beings? I can't say that I have met anyone that I would regard as a genius, however, I have met many people with extraordinary talent and the best among them were those who showed respect for others. As someone said earlier, it's really not that difficult.

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danceintheblood may well have a point. In Greg Lawrence's bio of Jerome Robbins, he quotes someone -- it was either John Kander or the late Fred Ebb, I think the former -- about Robbins' notorious bad behavior, and Kander said something like, He did it because he could get away with it, he wouldn't be able to these days. Which may well be an oversimplification, but one with some truth to it. Toscanini acted like Toscanini because he could, but it would be difficult to get musicians to sit still for such treatment nowadays.

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danceintheblood may well have a point. In Greg Lawrence's bio of Jerome Robbins, he quotes someone -- it was either John Kander or the late Fred Ebb, I think the former -- about Robbins' notorious bad behavior, and Kander said something like, He did it because he could get away with it, he wouldn't be able to these days.  Which may well be an oversimplification, but one with some truth to it.  Toscanini acted like Toscanini because he could, but it would be difficult to get musicians to sit still for such treatment nowadays.

I don't know, dirac, Robbins only died 7 years ago, well into the Question Authority era, and while Judith Fugate and perhaps others are on record as having refused to work with him, many others did. His behavior stemmed from insecurity, or so we're told, and perhaps knowing that gave people the strength to withstand his storms.

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One of the frequent themes in criticism of the Robbins oeuvre is his keen observation of human behavior. You'd think someone with his insight would understand how easy it would be to take his behavior as a sign of insecurity . . . and change it!

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Kander was speaking more generally, I think. I'm not sure he intended to suggest that a rebellious younger generation would Rise Up against an eminence like Robbins or Toscanini, rather that such extreme cases probably wouldn't arise under contemporary conditions because such behavior was unlikely to become a pattern in the first place.

carbro writes:

You'd think someone with his insight would understand how easy it would be to take his behavior as a sign of insecurity . . . and change it!

If only we could all do that. :) I remember Saul Bellow writing in Herzog something to the effect that on occasion personality just does its thing, and all you can do is stand by and watch.......

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Even in the Question Authority Age (and indeed, even today) dancers often take it upon themselves (whether taught to or not by their teachers) to be martyrs who will suffer through just about anything. I say, good for Fugate--perhaps if more dancers had taken the same stance, Robbins would have been forced to change his behavior.

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I don't know what Jerome Robbins did in his capacity as Director, so I cannot speak to what dancers should have done. But a career in the performing arts is very fragile.....being known as the corps de ballet member who stood up to an autocratic director probably will not help your career. The same would be true for a musician playing under the baton of an autocratic conductor (and they certainly do exist today).

That being said, there are some artists who really try to be nice but sometimes it is hard for them. A friend was a successful popular singer.....the kind who gave concerts at Carnegie Hall that were sold out and whose CDs sold lots and lots of copies. When her mother was dying in the hospital, fans wanted her autograph, right on the hospital steps. It was a situation that was hard for her to deal with. So, sometimes those on the outside may not understand what is going on inside an artist's life and why they behave in a certain way. We need to understand that artists are people and they also have ups and downs like the rest of us.

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Hello!!!!???? A person visiting a hospital under any circumstances (except the maternity ward) is not there for happy reasons. I am appalled that anyone would approach a person for an autograph in a hospital!!! That says more about the tactlessness of the fan/s than the temperament of the artist.

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I remember Saul Bellow writing in Herzog something to the effect that on occasion personality just does its thing, and all you can do is stand by and watch.......

Saul Bellow should be worked into a thread whenever possible. :)

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Even in the Question Authority Age (and indeed, even today) dancers often take it upon themselves (whether taught to or not by their teachers) to be martyrs who will suffer through just about anything.  I say, good for Fugate--perhaps if more dancers had taken the same stance, Robbins would have been forced to change his behavior.

Interesting point, Hans. Aren't corps dancers still frequently referred to as the "boys" and the "girls"? I find that hard to understand.

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In the learning abilities field, there are several ways to classify this kind of person:

capable of deep feeling, and thus of deep emotional suffering, be so callous as to inflict it on others?
The most general category would be a kind of nonverbal learning disorder :) and fits people who, although capable of strong emotions, cannot generalize enough to recognize that other people share similar emotions. There's a disconnect where they don't recognize anything but what's within themselves and don't understand cause and effect of their own behaviors. People whom we say have autistic spectrum behaviors fit this category but so do others.

It's a matter of brain wiring but that oughtn't to get people off the hook. :devil: The human brain is amazingly plastic and has the ability to grow new pathways no matter how old the person. So even geniuses with bad social behavior can learn - if they have the motivation to do so - how to behave nicer.

But do all geniuses have poor social skills? No way. There's just as much variety among them as there are among us "regular folks". We see that every time we go to the supermarket or, especially the DMV :). In fact, everywhere we go, we see lots of regular people behaving badly :blush:

As others have said about genius, in many cases it's a matter of environment - how others treat them BECAUSE of their genius. As a teacher in alternative school settings, I am sorry to say I have seen this countless times. If someone grows up believing that rules of decency don't have to apply to them, then chances are they'll behave badly as adults too. It doesn't take genius to figure that out. :grinning-smiley-001:

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Just had to add Richard Wagner, surely one of the morally slimiest and self-rationalizing of great artists. (Not just his dubious ideas about national and racial supermanism -- but his private life as well.)

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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.

.......apparently she never had a peas and proscuitto sauce---delicious.

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Aren't corps dancers still frequently referred to as the "boys" and the "girls"? I find that hard to understand.

I think they are, rather often. Some directors say "ladies" and "gentlemen," which I think is much more appropriate.

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vagansmom brings a very important perspective to this discussion.

I work with a lot of scientists, artists, and people in computer sciences. Many are eccentric and/or unpleasant. Many are "nice". People are all unique.

A LOT of "great" minds are attached to "unpleasant" personalities.But they've contributed something very important to our lives whether it be a deeper understanding of the nature of the Universe, a beautiful painting, or a piece of music.

Great Art and Science stems from a individuals who are capable of seeing the world in a different way. And discovering the means to express thier perspective. Because of these differences, they may not appear "normal" or behave in "normal" ways.

In addition to this

If someone grows up believing that rules of decency don't have to apply to them, then chances are they'll behave badly as adults too.

I'd like to add this.

"Normal" people can be very judgmental and cruel toward those people who are different. They are afraid of being "abnormal" themselves, so engage in a witch hunt of sorts. This can result in much anxiety and neurosis in those who are persecuted. Especially if they are not supported in childhood and given the understanding/tools that they need.

I'm not making any point, nor am I excusing "bad" behavior. I just feel that sometimes a life of being made fun of/being made to feel "different" can take it toll. Plus I've seen some very smart people who can't seem to accept others differences (even if the person isn't doing anything harmful to others---they get teased). It makes me angry when I see somebody get teased/shunned. Especially when it's in an adult setting.

People's behaviors can usually be figured out. But most people don't want to bother. It's too bad, especially when someone has obvious talent and good traits that are overshadowed by thier behavior. Maybe they just need someone to tell them to get therapy if they have neurosis/chemical problems. Or some understanding if they have neurological/learning style differences. But no, people just don't like anyone who's "different" . Can't be bothered with them. Easier to write them off and tease them.

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Well...there's "different" or "eccentric" and then there's "rude" or even "abusive." I've had plenty of teachers who used unusual methods or had eccentric habits, but that's very different from screaming obscenities at one's students. I think dancers tend to be extremely tolerant of eccentricity because dancers are different from the majority of society.

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Well...there's "different" or "eccentric" and then there's "rude" or even "abusive."  I've had plenty of teachers who used unusual methods or had eccentric habits, but that's very different from screaming obscenities at one's students.  I think dancers tend to be extremely tolerant of eccentricity because dancers are different from the majority of society.

What a tricky subject to discuss. I have knowledge of extremely famous ballet artists being both rude and abusive yet, extremely decent, kindhearted and generous. I have known other famous ballet artists who were polite and friendly at work, but never showed kindness or real concern for others. I think on the whole the truly famous artists whose behavior has been considered outrageous, have generally been understood and often respected by colleagues who were 'real artists' themselves, but not famous. Personally I have never liked to hear any dancer criticising any other dancer on a personal level. Hans is correct I believe in saying ( above ), "... because dancers are different from the majority of society". I would add and suggest, those who are worthy of the appellation "genius" or "real artists", are even more different.

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I have known other famous ballet artists who were polite and friendly at work, but never showed kindness or real concern for others.

Thanks for contributing your thoughts, leonid. Very true.

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I think artists can be decent people. No question about that. But I'd also say that we should hesitate in extrapolating "meanings" from an artist's work and apply it to his character.

Case in point: Giuseppe Verdi wrote some heart-wrenching music for fathers and daughters. And he did lose two young children at an early age. Yet, as Mary Jane Phillip Matz's wonderful biography points out, he was not at all generous to his second wife's illegitimate children. And there's strong evidence that he abandoned two daughters with his wife Strepponi. And he certainly could have afforded to raise them.

On the other end of the spectrum, many people assume Alfred Hitchcock was a terrible, sadistic person because of the movies he made. But biographies and memoirs of people who worked with him paint a picture of a complex man for sure, but certainly not a monster.

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